Le Pen sees campaign to block his candidacy

1st March 2007, Comments 0 comments

SAINT-CLOUD, France, March 1, 2007 (AFP) - French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen on Thursday accused political rivals of using pressure tactics to try to prevent him from qualifying for the presidential election.

SAINT-CLOUD, France, March 1, 2007 (AFP) - French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen on Thursday accused political rivals of using pressure tactics to try to prevent him from qualifying for the presidential election.

The leader of the National Front said he was 100 signatures short of the 500 endorsements needed from mayors and locally elected officials to stand in the April-May vote.

"I did manage to win about 500 pledges," Le Pen told a news conference at his party headquarters in Saint-Cloud, on the west side of Paris.

"Unfortunately a certain number of these pledges were not honoured."

"These about-faces are not due to coincidence," he said, adding that they were the result of "pressure tactics" used against mayors who had promised to endorse his candidacy.

A populist who is advocating a halt to immigration and to European integration, Le Pen stunned the nation in 2002 when he won enough votes to move on to the run-off vote against Jacques Chirac.

The far-right leader, who is making his sixth and probably last bid for the presidency, has failed once before, in 1981, to qualify as a candidate.

Le Pen said mayors who had pledged to endorse his candidacy were receiving phone calls from people posing as journalists and who ask whether they "fear reprisals" for supporting the far-right leader.

The leader said he had filed 14 legal complaints and suggested that conservative rival Philippe de Villiers was among those behind the campaign to dissuade mayors from signing endorsements in support of his candidacy.

Villiers has denied any wrongdoing and counter-charged that Le Pen was playing the victim to win support.

For the candidates of big organised parties, the collection of the 500 signatures is a formality but the undertaking is a complicated one for smaller contenders.

Mayor Roger Lechevalier of the northern town of Saint-Pierre-d'Artheglise endorsed Le Pen in 2002 but said he would not do so this time because he wanted to avoid "problems" and "reprisals."

Lechevalier told Le Parisien newspaper that he had been harrassed by a local resident and accused of "bringing dishonour to the town" for helping Le Pen's bid. He also received 750 euros from the National Front for the town's festival committee.

The president of the rural mayors association Gerard Pelletier said Thursday that it was time to change the system that determines the eligibility of candidates in the election.

"We really do need to do it differently," Pelletier was quoted as saying on Europe 1 radio. "Rural mayors should not have to shoulder the responsibility and be told that it's their fault if there are problems with the democratic process."

Of the 44 declared candidates who have until March 16 to collect the 500 signatures, more than half are expected to be eliminated from the race.

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Subject: French news

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