France's anti-Le Pen forces gather
PARIS, France -- Tens of thousands of people have held protests across France for the fifth consecutive day since against far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.
And France's political mainstream is reporting large numbers joining the major parties in reaction to Le Pen's success in the first round of the presidential election.
Le Pen stunned France and sent shockwaves around Europe after he came second in the first round vote beating Socialist Lionel Jospin and securing a place in the second round runoff vote against incumbent Jacques Chirac.
Major demonstrations were reported on Thursday in Lyon, Strasbourg, Nantes, Brest, Lyon, Toulouse and Rouen while thousands turned out for various rallies in smaller towns across the country.
French LCI television put the total on the streets at close to 100,000, mostly students.
Police said four youths in Rouen had been held for throwing stones and a further two for damaging cars.
Tempers flared at Paris's college for political sciences on Thursday as notables discussed the fall-out from a result that has sent many French reeling in shame.
Angry students accused pollsters of creating a mood of complacency among the electorate by wrongly predicting a Chirac-Jospin runoff.
Some insisted on a moratorium of opinion polls in the run-up to future elections, a student participant said.
Demonstrators have marched daily in Paris and the provinces since the result of Sunday's vote became apparent.
On Thursday, human rights groups and political parties issued a joint statement calling for massive protests this weekend in all major French cities.
The signatories included France's Communist Party, the Greens, student groups, trade unions, the anti-racism group SOS Racisme and the French Human Rights League.
Sporadic violence, including clashes with police on the historic Place de la Concorde in Paris, has sharpened fears of major unrest on May 1 -- Labour Day across Europe -- four days before the process reach its climax on May 5.
Trade unions have called on members to attend rallies planned for May 1 which are now expected to become the focus of opposition to Le Pen, whose anti-immigrant, anti-EU policies have made him a pariah in Europe.
Le Pen was booed and jeered on Wednesday by MEPs as he took his seat in the European Parliament.
Politicians held up banners declaring "Non" as the French National Front leader began by declaring that everyone was horrified by what was happening in the Middle East.
A side-effect of the first round -- which was marked by a record abstention rate of 28 percent -- has been a mushrooming of political interest among voters who only last week were polled as being thoroughly bored with the election campaign.
Chirac's Rally for the Republic (RPR) had 2,000 membership inquiries this week, and the Socialist Party said it received as many application requests in two days as in all of 2001.
Francois Hollande, of Jospin's Socialist party, told Reuters: "It's an explosion. People are offering their help, their ideas, their support. It's the start of something new."
The Greens party, which with the Socialists forms part of the ruling leftist parliamentary coalition, said support was flooding in from all over the world as people hunted for a way to voice their disgust with the National Front.
Chirac, in a prime-time television interview on Wednesday night, praised the growing protests against Le Pen.
The president called "very solemnly" on protesters to show "determination" in their demonstrations -- but to do so in a "dignified and reasonable" manner.
He added: "The experience, the history of democracy shows that every time the extreme right succeeded in taking power legally, things ended very, very, very badly," Chirac said.
Le Pen says that if elected president, he will move to cut France's ties with the European Union, restore border controls to halt the flow of immigrants and phase out income taxes. He opposes abortion and supports the death penalty and has been accused of being anti-Semitic.
Le Pen jeered by Euro MPs
April 24, 2002
Le Pen's success confirmed
April 23, 2002
French poll result alarms Europe
April 22, 2002
Jospin turns poll heat on Chirac
April 17, 2002
'Little' candidates winning hearts
April 17, 2002
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