Far-right leader steps up campaign

26th February 2007, Comments 0 comments

LILLE, France, Feb 25, 2007 (AFP) - France's far-right National Front gathered in this northern city on Sunday to hear leader Jean-Marie Le Pen present the election programme for his fifth bid for the presidency.

LILLE, France, Feb 25, 2007 (AFP) - France's far-right National Front gathered in this northern city on Sunday to hear leader Jean-Marie Le Pen present the election programme for his fifth bid for the presidency.

Le Pen, 78, stunned the nation when he qualified for the second round of voting against Jacques Chirac in the 2002 presidential election with nearly 17 percent of votes.

He has put forward an anti-immigration, ultranationalist stance, pledging to cut off social benefits for foreigners and deporting those who are unable to fend for themselves.

The convention that opened Saturday with some 1,000 delegates has been overshadowed by a dispute over the collection of signatures from locally elected politicians that are needed to qualify as a candidate.

Le Pen accused unnamed politicians of waging a campaign of intimidation against mayors who had agreed to back his candidacy for the April-May vote.

"A certain number of mayors who have signed (endorsement forms) are receiving phone calls from people who are trying to dissuade them from signing," said Le Pen.

"We will investigate and file a complaint," said the far-right leader who is is struggling to collect the 500 signatures needed to stand in the election.

Under the procedure, mayors and other elected officials fill out a form officially endorsing a candidate that is sent to the constitutional council, the body that decides on the eligibility of the contenders.

With his crisply-ironed suits and large glasses, Le Pen has become a force to contend with in French politics since his surprise showing in the 2002 elections.

But the latest poll published Sunday showed Le Pen is losing the third spot in the race to centrist Francois Bayrou, who got 17 percent of votes compared to 11.5 percent for the far-right leader.

The two frontrunners, rightwing leader Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist Segolene Royal, are running neck-and-neck in the first round at 28 percent.

Sarkozy would edge ahead in the run-off with 50.5 percent compared to 49.4 percent for Royal, according to the IFOP survey.

Le Pen, who is probably waging his last campaign, said the convention in Lille marks the "beginning of the final and decisive phase in the presidential campaign."

He caused a stir last week when he dismissed the September 11, 2001 attacks as an "incident", saying the death toll of 3,000 was equal to the number of people killed in Iraq in a month.

The far-right leader was convicted of Holocaust denial after he declared in 1987 that the gas chambers used by Nazi Germany to exterminate Jews were a "detail in the history of World War II."

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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