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Sunday, 5 May, 2002, 23:06 GMT 00:06 UK
Chirac supporters revel in the moment
Chirac supporters on Place de la Republique, Paris
Celebrations but a harder electoral battle lies ahead

A miserable drizzle over Paris could not keep President Jacques Chirac's most loyal supporters inside or suppress their glee that their leader had dealt his far-right opponent Jean-Marie Le Pen a crushing defeat at Sunday's presidential election.

What they lacked in numbers, they made up for in noise, gathered in the city's Place de la Republique.

A resounding cheer went up as Mr Chirac took to the stage to declare that freedom, democracy and France had been saved from the clutches of right-wing extremism.


Before, nobody really cared much about politics but what happened has really forced people to become engaged

Emmanuel Laurent
student

People pushed and shoved to get closer to the temporary platform erected for the incumbent's widely anticipated victory speech, and a glimpse of the man who has won himself a further five years as the head of the French state.

"We're totally overjoyed. We knew he would win, but we didn't know if he would win by such a wide margin," said 26-year-old Sonia Guzik, dancing in front of the stage with her sister Karine.

"It's a true victory for Chirac, and a victory against the racism and xenophobia that Le Pen stands for.

"Do you think the world will start to respect France again, now that they see how we have voted?"

Applause also broke out at the down-at-heel Porte de Montmartre bar as the results were announced.

These were not Mr Chirac's core voters. Indeed some of them had not voted at all.

"This is very good news," said Anis Saghi, a builder born in Tunisia with legal residency status in France but not entitled to vote.

"Le Pen is a racist, a fascist - he hates immigrants. But just because he's been beaten I don't think we've seen the last of him and his ideas."

Le Pen's impact

Even in the height of their jubilation, Mr Chirac's key supporters say that the issues raised by Mr Le Pen in his electoral campaign - the now infamous "insecurite", fear of crime, and immigration - will have to be addressed by their leader in his next term in office.


Crime and immigration are real issues that we can't just pretend don't exist

Bruno Palieu
Chirac supporter

"Le Pen is a frightening politician and it's good he's been defeated so clearly. But that doesn't mean the concerns of those who voted for him should be ignored," said Bruno Palieu as he vied for a position near the stage.

"We will have to start talking about these things, and probably before the parliamentary elections in June."

Sonia Guzik agrees: "Crime and immigration are real issues that we can't just pretend don't exist. France is only so big, and we can only take in so many people."

Does she believe Chirac will sort these things out?

"Yes. He must and he will."

Backlash

Those voters who cast their ballot reluctantly for Mr Chirac in order to thwart the presidential ambitions of Jean-Marie Le Pen also believe there are consequences to Sunday's vote.

"I believe that Chirac will pay for this victory. There is so much anger that it came to this, so many think it was unfair, that I believe people will really rally behind the left in the June elections," said Isabelle Werck, a music teacher, who had voted for Socialist Prime Minister Jospin in the first round of the elections on 21 April.

For student Emmanuel Laurent, the last two weeks have thrown up something totally novel: the politicisation of young people.

"Before, nobody really cared much about politics but what happened has really forced people to become engaged.

"If this lasts - and I really hope it will - then maybe having Chirac as president for another five years is a small price to pay?"


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05 May 02 | Europe
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