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Le Pen complains of 'fraud'

PARIS, France -- Far-right French presidential contender Jean-Marie Le Pen has predicted widespread electoral fraud against his party in Sunday's voting.

Meanwhile the runaway favourite, President Jacques Chirac, urged left-leaning voters to support him and "stand in the way" of the far right.

"We are going to witness an enormous enterprise of fraud," Le Pen told a news conference on Friday.

As a purported example, Le Pen held up two ballots -- one for Chirac and one for himself. The one for the president was slightly whiter, which Le Pen said was an effort to make voting for him subconciously less desirable.

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With two days to go before Sunday's presidential runoff, Le Pen complained that his campaign posters were not being pinned up, mail carriers were refusing to deliver his election manifesto to households in France, and that his supporters were being harassed.

Chirac, meanwhile, told France Inter radio that he "understood" and "respected" those who voted for Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin in the first round of the presidential contest on April 21 and were now uncomfortable with choosing between two candidates with whom they did not agree -- and may not vote at all.

However, he said he would not modify his political platform to lure liberal voters, and that he is campaigning on pledges that encompass "the interests of all the French."

Chirac responded angrily on Friday when he was asked during a question-and-answer session in the northern city of Chalons-en-Champagne whether he had helped Le Pen get on the ballot in order to beat Jospin.

A young man who identified himself only as Michael suggested Chirac instructed office-holding members of his party to give Le Pen the signatures he needed to participate in the presidential race. In France, a candidate must obtain 500 signatures from elected officials to get on the ballot.

Le Pen stunned the nation by coming in second in the April vote with nearly 17 percent, beating out Jospin and qualifying for the runoff.

On Friday Le Pen bitterly attacked Chirac's final campaign speech, in which the president warned a crowd of 20,000 of the dangers of France's extreme right and praised the massive, daily street protests against his opponent.

"The extreme right divides, sorts out and rejects," Chirac told supporters in the Paris suburb of Villepinte. "It wants to introduce inequality and discrimination into the heart of the Constitution. It is an engine of exclusion, discord and violence."

Le Pen, at his Friday news conference, called those comments "odious."




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