Protest, poll rebuffs for Le Pen
PARIS, France -- About 100,000 protesters took to the streets of major cities in France on Saturday in the latest rebuff to far right presidential candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen.
The rallies, following a week of protests involving up to 350,000 people, came as a poll suggested President Jacques Chirac would trounce National Front leader Le Pen 81 percent to 19 percent in the second round of the presidential vote next week.
The Interior Ministry told Reuters that 28,000 people joined protests in Paris, while outside the capital turnout was unexpectedly strong in the southeastern and eastern regions where Le Pen scored heavily in last Sunday's first round.
Police said more than 20,000 rallied in Grenoble and Le Pen stronghold Marseille, while 12,000 were out in Bordeaux, 10,000 in Nancy and several thousand each in Lyon, Rouen and Le Havre.
Two thousand police were on duty in Paris alone, braced for trouble following sporadic violence last week after Le Pen took 17 percent of the vote, ousting Prime Minister Lionel Jospin from the contest in a first round result that stunned Europe.
Wielding banners proclaiming "Nowhere for Nazis" and "We're Stronger than Hatred," a cortege of students, trade unionists and anti-racist activists walked the three kilometres (1.5 miles) from Paris's Place de la Republique to Place de la Nation.
"The Republic is in danger -- vote on May 5!" chanted one group of Socialist students. "Le Pen you're done for, the youth is in the street!" shouted others.
"For those of us who lived through the age of darkness this is critical," said Robert Creange, head of the French Federation of World War Two deportees, a group for victims of deportation to concentration camps during the Nazi occupation of France.
"It's great to see young people leading the way," said singer and actress Jane Birkin of the group of young people placed symbolically at the front of the march. "Everyone must unite to Chirac without remorse to stop Le Pen."
A police spokesman told Reuters no violent incidents had been reported by late-afternoon. Eyewitnesses described the mood of the crowd as festive, with bands playing rock music and a fusion of North African and Western pop known in France as "rai."
Environment Minister and Green Party member Yves Cochet also took part in the march, defying an appeal by defeated Socialist PM Jospin for ministers not to take part.
Other leading members of Jospin's Socialist party, including Paris mayor Bernard Delanoe, were also spotted on the march, Reuters reported.
Chirac, fearing trouble could play into Le Pen's hands, had urged calm ahead of protests due to continue over the weekend and culminate in a May 1 rally in Paris next Wednesday.
An opinion poll on Saturday gave President Chirac a potential landslide 81 percent of the vote in the May 5 runoff.
Le Pen was on 19 percent -- just two points higher than in the first round.
The survey by CSA polling group, published in the newspaper Le Parisien, put the number of abstentions or invalid votes at an unusually high 29 percent.
Le Pen brought more anger in the French political mainstream on Friday when he stepped up his anti-immigration rhetoric.
The National Front leader said that France ought to create "transit camps" for illegal aliens and even organise a "special train" to deliver immigrants to Britain from the much-criticised holding centre near the Channel at Sangatte.
Le Pen's choice of words enraged many, The Associated Press reported, because it recalled the World War Two "transit camps" for French Jews and their deportation to Nazi death camps on "special trains."
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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