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French poll result alarms Europe

LONDON, England -- Most of Europe's political leaders have reacted with horror to the success of far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen in the first round of France's presidential elections.

In a showing that sent shockwaves through Europe and ended the career of third-placed Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, Le Pen took just over 17 percent on Sunday to head into the May 5 runoff against President Jacques Chirac, who polled 2.6 percent more votes with 99 percent of the votes counted. (Full story)

National Front leader Le Pen is widely forecast to lose in the second round runoff to incumbent French President Jacques Chirac.

Le Pen has long been accused of racism and anti-Semitism. He is notorious for having called Nazi gas chambers "a detail" of history in 1987 -- a remark for which he was fined in court, one of several convictions. Le Pen denies he is anti-Semitic.

"The share of the vote that the ultra-right received is alarming," German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer told Reuters. Asked whether it would have consequences for European policies, he added: "It's too early to tell. We have to wait to see the results of the runoff election."

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Le Pen shocked many in France by defeating Prime Minister Lionel Jospin. CNN's Jim Bittermann reports (April 22)

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A spokesman for British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Jospin's exit was "very sad." He added: "We trust the French people to reject extremism of any kind."

Sweden's Social Democrat Prime Minister Goran Persson called for a united struggle "against right-wing extremist politics and xenophobia", newspapers reported.

Greek government spokesman Christos Protopappas said the rise of the far right showed "a danger for democracy, for social cohesion and the perspective of Europe."

European Union Commissioner Neil Kinnock said he was "astounded and horrified" by Le Pen's success, adding that the result threw "a great dirty rock into the European political pool."

Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel said he was "saddened that a non-democrat made it into the second round of the elections. Fortunately, Jacques Chirac, who has always opposed Le Pen, is leading and he will win the elections."

He added: "The disillusionment and disappointment the French people feel towards their mainstream leaders has produced a protest vote that has spectacularly backfired on the French Republic."

In Copenhagen, the governing Liberal Party's foreign policy spokesman Troels Lund Poulsen said the outcome was "a shocking experience."

"I see the election result as an expression of powerlessness and that French politicians have not been in sufficient dialogue with the electorate," the Danish politician said, citing low voter turnout.

The Union of Jewish students in France called for a rally on Monday outside the historic Pantheon in Paris to denounce "intolerance, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia."

Support for Le Pen

Response from the right-wing Italian government was negative but more nuanced.

Maurizio Gasparri, communications minister and member of the National Alliance party which traces its roots back to Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, told Italian daily Il Corriere della Sera he "would have voted for Chirac and not Le Pen."

"Le Pen collected protest votes but he is not an alternative. I think the cause of this result is the collapse of the left which is heading for a eurodisaster -- because wherever it rules it cannot find a synthesis: it's a ghost."

Russian ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky told Russian news agency Interfax in an interview that Le Pen's advance was evidence of a move to the right in many countries.

"People are tired of loose democracy, which gives birth to crime and large-scale migration," he said. He said he had sent a congratulatory telegram to "the great patriot Le Pen."

Le Pen has long been accused of racism and anti-Semitism
Le Pen has long been accused of racism and anti-Semitism  

More support came from Filip Dewinter, leader of the far-right Vlaams Blok that took a third of the vote in Belgium's second city Antwerp in 2000.

"I'm very, very pleased that Le Pen scored such a large victory," Dewinter told Reuters. "We are brothers in arms."

"It's not surprising that French voters are moving to a far-right party. They have the same problems of insecurity, of immigration and political corruption... It's the normal situation in Europe after Italy, Austria, Holland."

The far-right British National Party (BNP), electorally insignificant, said it had much in common with Le Pen.

"You can imagine that their policies and ideas are similar to ours -- they consider that France and Europe in general are under threat from very large numbers of non-Europeans," said a spokesman. "We're very pleased that throughout Europe there appears to be a movement to restore sanity."

But in the Netherlands, where the new anti-immigrant party of the shaven-headed and forthrightly homosexual Pim Fortuyn is campaigning strongly for next month's general election, a spokesman distanced his leader from Le Pen.

"The comparison between us and Mr Le Pen is very insulting," he told Reuters. "I consider them very right wing."

And in Germany, the new Law and Order Party was similarly cool as it prepared for September's general election there.

"I have nothing in common with Le Pen. I don't want to have anything to do with Le Pen," said Ulrich Marseille, the party leader in the state of Saxony-Anhalt.

Outside Europe, there was much less immediate response to the preliminary election result. But the ruling party newspaper in Ivory Coast, a former French colony, said it was ominous.

"It is the racist, xenophobic France which is prevailing and that is frightening," said Notre Voie. Former French colonies in Africa are a major source of immigrants to France.

Newspapers across Europe led with the news of Le Pen's surprise second-place showing in the elections. (Press round-up)

Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet called the election "an insult to democracy," while a headline in Rome daily La Repubblica read, "France, Earthquake Le Pen."



 
 
 
 






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