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Last Updated: Friday, 2 March 2007, 12:28 GMT
Le Pen's election bid in trouble
By Petru Clej
BBC News

Jean-Marie Le Pen
Mr Le Pen stunned France with his success in 2002
French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen says rivals are making a concerted effort to block his candidacy in the presidential election.

Mr Le Pen, 78, needs 500 signatures from elected officials to become a candidate. But he admits he is still 100 short.

He has until 16 March to submit the required number of signatures.

The leader of the National Front (FN) is currently in fourth place in the opinion polls, with 14%.

In 2002 Mr Le Pen scraped into the first round of voting, managing to gather the 500 signatures just before the official deadline.

But he went on to shock France by reaching the second round runoff vote, where he was defeated by Jacques Chirac.

Struggle for signatures

There are 42,000 elected officials entitled to deliver the signatures, or parrainages.

Most of these - 36,000 - are mayors, the rest are either regional or departmental councillors, deputies, senators or members of the European Parliament. But very few - barely 150 - are FN members.

Americans send monitors to elections in Africa - they should send them here
Julien Sanchez, National Front spokesman

Mr Le Pen therefore has to woo elected members of other parties - no easy task.

The FN is accused by rival politicians of being anti-Semitic, xenophobic and anti-immigrant - so many mayors are proving reluctant to back Mr Le Pen.

Roger Lechevalier, mayor of a small town in Western France, returned a cheque for 1,000 euros (674; $1,322), donated by an FN official to his municipality, Saint-Pierre-d'Artheglise.

It emerged that Mr Lechevalier, who had signed for Mr Le Pen in 2002, had turned him down this time round.

"There is nothing illegal in making donations to a municipality," FN spokesman Julien Sanchez told the BBC News website.

'Anti-democratic system'

Mr Sanchez accused other parties of ganging up against Mr Le Pen's candidacy and said the FN was taking legal action.

Philippe de Villiers
Mr de Villiers accused Mr Le Pen of playing the victim

"We have lodged a complaint against Philippe de Villiers (another right wing candidate) for trying to influence officials into refusing to sign for Jean-Marie Le Pen," he said, adding that the FN had taken the same action against 14 others.

Mr de Villiers has denied any wrongdoing and dismissed the FN accusation.

The FN spokesman said the French electoral system was "anti-democratic".

"It's ridiculous that a candidate who scored 17 per cent and qualified for the second round in 2002 is struggling to gather 500 endorsements. Americans send monitors to elections in Africa. They should send them here," Mr Sanchez said.

He said three left-wing and far-left candidates did not seem to have any trouble gathering signatures, although opinion polls credited them with a combined 6-7% at most.

Mr Le Pen is currently on 14%, in fourth place, behind the two frontrunners, centre-right candidate Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist Segolene Royal, but also behind the centrist Francois Bayrou.

Mr Le Pen failed in 1981 to qualify as a presidential candidate. This is his fifth run at the presidency.


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