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Extremists find support in France

Laguiller: "Workers are no longer protected by this government"  

By CNN Senior Correspondent Jim Bittermann

PARIS, France (CNN) -- A dozen years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the sound of the Communist Internationale is echoing across France in rising crescendo -- due mainly to a 62-year-old retired bank employee running for the French presidency for the fifth time.

Arlette Laguiller's surprising poll numbers -- and growing support for her extremist politics -- shows she has tapped into a sentiment that runs across the political spectrum.

Daniel Gueffier and his wife represent the phenomenon. Both are Laguiller voters. And even though the school cook knows the Trotskyite candidate has no possibility of winning, he wants to send a message -- at least in the first round of voting, when messages can be sent.

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"To scare Mr. Jospin and Mr. Chirac, so those who want to be elected get it into their heads that if they continue to give grief to French workers, there will more strikes and demonstrations and things like that," says Daniel Gueffier.

Laguiller credits her sudden popularity to those who feel sold out by the government of Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, a Socialist who nonetheless privatized state companies and permitted profitable companies to lay off employees.

"Workers are no longer protected by this government," says Laguiller. "In voting for me, people are saying, I don't want to vote for the right, but I don't want to endorse the politics of the Socialists for the last five years either."

But with the French economy weakening and many voters looking for new approaches, messages are not only being sent to Jospin from the extreme left, but also to his long-time rival, conservative President Jacques Chirac, from the extreme right.

National Front candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen has rarely been so popular, taking poll share from Chirac largely because of the tough stands Le Pen has taken for years on crime and against immigration -- attitudes that lead some to accuse his party of being racist.

Le Pen
National Front candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen has been taking poll share from President Jacques Chirac  

But National Front activist Farid Smahi says it isn't so. A sports teacher, Smahi claims that unlike Chirac, who has moved to the political center like many European politicians, Le Pen has stayed true to conservative political ideals.

"The French in a general way have come to understand that all the mainstream politicians have become big shots, liars and men who don't keep their promises," says Smahi. "They are no longer men of their word."

And so both political extremes of French politics have enjoyed increased popularity this campaign, because their supporters perceive that those long-held ideals are better than the compromises made in the name of political pragmatism.




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