French flag sparks tug-of-war in election race

25th March 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 25, 2007 (AFP) - France's Socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal has sent sparks flying in the election race by calling for supporters to reclaim the French national anthem and flag from far-right nationalists.

PARIS, March 25, 2007 (AFP) - France's Socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal has sent sparks flying in the election race by calling for supporters to reclaim the French national anthem and flag from far-right nationalists.

Four of Royal's recent rallies have wrapped up with loudspeakers blasting out the national anthem, "La Marseillaise" -- more often associated in French politics with Jean-Marie Le Pen's anti-immigration National Front party.

On Friday, Royal told reporters during a trip to the French Riviera -- long a bastion of the far-right -- that, if elected, she would "ensure that the French know the words to La Marseillaise, and that every family owns a national flag" to "fly from their window on national holidays."

"We need to reconquer the symbols of the nation" instead of "abandoning the national anthem to the extreme right," she said. "And at the same time learn to see these symbols in a new way."

Observers saw the new twist in Royal's campaign as a response to a drive by the right-wing frontrunner Nicolas Sarkozy to reclaim the theme of "national identity" from the far-right.

On Saturday, organisers played the anthem at a meeting she attended in Villeurbanne, a rough surburb of the eastern city of Lyon.

It was a potent symbol in a room packed with residents of the suburbs, many of whom are the French-born children and grandchildren of African immigrants and who often complain of being treated like second-rate citizens.

But Royal's comments sparked an uproar on the far-left, where she was accused of cheapening France's national symbols.

The communist candidate Marie-George Buffet said the flag and anthem were "two symbols of the Republic that belong to the people -- not scraps to be fought over."

The anti-capitalist candidate Jose Bove accused Royal of seeking to "Americanise our country by hanging a French flag from every window", and of chasing after Sarkozy on the question of national identity.

The Socialist leader in parliament, Jean-Marc Ayrault, said in an interview with the Journal du Dimanche that Royal wanted "to rehabilitate patriotism of the heart, where what counts is not people's origins, but the Republican values that bring us together."

He opposed Royal's vision to what he said was Sarkozy's "patriotism of fear" that "orders people to love France or leave it."

Sarkozy -- who steps down Monday as interior minister to focus full-time on the race -- also says his concept of "national identity" is about the defence of core French values, not race or origin.

Members of his ruling Union for a Popular Movement held a rally in the Paris suburbs Saturday to explain his position.

With four weeks to go until the April 22 first round of the election, Sarkozy currently leads the race, ahead of Royal and the centrist Francois Bayrou. Le Pen is in fourth place, far ahead of the eight remaining candidates.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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