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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 April 2007, 11:11 GMT 12:11 UK
Sarkozy refuses internet debate
By Petru Clej
BBC News

Francois Bayrou
Francois Bayrou tries to revive his poll ratings by proposing a debate
The third-placed candidate in the French presidential elections, Francois Bayrou, has challenged his main rivals to an internet debate.

Socialist candidate Segolene Royal, and far-right veteran Jean Marie Le Pen accepted the offer immediately.

But the front-runner, centre-right candidate Nicolas Sarkozy, said he would only take part if all 12 candidates were included.

Internet debates are not subject to the strict rules laid down for TV debates.

Centrist Francois Bayrou has seen his poll ratings fall below 20%, well behind Nicolas Sarkozy and Segolene Royal, after running them an unexpectedly close race in recent weeks.

He suggested bloggers get together and organise a debate between the four main contenders.

But Mr Sarkozy said it was unfair to select just four candidates.

'Lack of respect'

"Either a debate with all 12 candidates or none at all," he said during a campaign stop in western France.

Sarkozy
Analysts say there is a risk Mr Sarkozy could snap at opponents
"It is artificial to choose one candidate over the other and it even shows lack of respect towards the other candidates."

Opinion polls show that the four main candidates in the 22 April election would attract over 85% of the vote, leaving only 15% to the other eight candidates in the race.

Up to now, televised debates between candidates have only taken place after the first round of voting, between the two candidates entering the run-off.

In 2002, President Jacques Chirac refused to debate with his rival, Jean Marie Le Pen.

"As a front runner [Mr Sarkozy] stands to lose from this sort of debate. He has a short temper and he could snap at his opponents, which would not bring him many votes, even on the internet", Mathieu Sarfati, a journalist for France 3 TV told BBC News.

Le Figaro newspaper reported last week that Nicolas Sarkozy and Segolene Royal will spend each one million euros (676,00) on their internet campaign sites.

According to Le Figaro, Mr Sarkozy's site claims 70,000 visitors a day, whereas Jean Marie Le Pen, with limited resources, can boast 60,000 and Francois Bayrou 50,000, up from 10,000 in February.




SEE ALSO
Q&A: French presidential vote
02 Apr 07 |  Europe
Candidates target French youth
26 Mar 07 |  Europe

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