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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 March, 2005, 18:39 GMT
French top 100 reveals surprises
By Allan Little
BBC News, Paris

Charles de Gaulle
Charles de Gaulle is a favourite in the public vote
The French have been voting to choose their greatest compatriot of all time, prompting a few shocks and surprises.

In a television series borrowed from the BBC's "Great Britons" series, France has selected its top 100.

The country's elite newspapers were characteristically, and perhaps predictably, aloof.

Le Figaro wondered how anyone could compare Zola, the author of J'Accuse and Germinal, to Zinedine Zidane, the World Cup football hero.

For the nation that holds itself to be the home of the 18th Century Enlightenment and which named streets after philosophers and botanists, there is a surprisingly strong showing from the world of show-business.

Top 10 candidates
Charles de Gaulle
Marie Curie
Louis Pasteur
Victor Hugo
Edith Piaf
Jacques Cousteau
Abbe Pierre

The celebrity marine biologist Jacques Cousteau, the diminutive diva Edith Piaf and two French comedians all make it into the top 10. Only 10 women make the top 100, and the celebrated Simone de Beauvoir, the author of the pioneering Second Sex, is not among them.

Napoleon Bonaparte holds a respectable 16th position; Louis XIV comes in at number 50. And dying at the stake for France wins Joan of Arc position 31.

Public vote

But France can be relied upon to place one man at the head of its parade of pop stars, football players, its Marie Curies and its Louis Pasteurs: General Charles de Gaulle.

Edith Piaf
Edith Piaf was among 10 women to make the top 100

He is modern France. His presence in the top 10 makes this a one horse race.

However, over the next two weeks, state-owned France 2 Television will broadcast 30-minute documentaries in which famous celebrities will promote the case for the top 10 candidates.

The public can vote via the internet, telephone or text-messages.

The winner will be announced during a live broadcast from the upper house of parliament, the Senate.

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