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French Politicians Angered After Upset Win For Le Pen

By Keith B. Richburg
THE WASHINGTON POST -- PARIS

Saying democracy itself is in peril, leaders across the French political spectrum Monday launched an emergency effort to prevent far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen from turning his second-place finish Sunday into the French presidency when a runoff is held 13 days from now.

Leaders in other European capitals expressed near universal dismay at Le Pen’s unforecast finish in the first round of balloting, saying that he must not get the presidency and that his views against immigrants have no place in the new Europe of cooperation and falling borders.

At a news conference Monday, an ebullient Le Pen promised a spirited campaign against incumbent Jacques Chirac and said it will focus on France’s rising crime rate and the number of immigrants in the country. He declared himself “the candidate of the French people against the candidate of the system.”

He said that if elected, he would consider pulling France out of the 1992 Maastricht Treaty that set out the continent’s current economic and monetary integration. “I am not an enemy of Europe,” Le Pen said. “I am a partisan of a Europe of nations, a Europe of homelands. But I am a determined adversary of a supranational, federal, federalizing Europe.”

Speaking in triumphant tones, Le Pen suggested he might make an issue during the next 12 days of campaigning of the financial scandals that have dogged Chirac’s term in office. “If he was a company chairman, he would leave his company’s annual meeting in handcuffs,” Le Pen said.

In Germany, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder called it “regrettable that the far right has become so strong.” Political leaders in Britain, Spain and Belgium said they were worried about the rise of extremism in a key European Union member state.

In 2000, France pushed the 15-nation European Union to impose sanctions against member state Austria when another far-right leader, Joerg Haider, made a strong showing in legislative elections and his anti-immigration Freedom Party was invited into a coalition government. Those sanctions were withdrawn later that year and widely viewed as counterproductive; there was no serious talk Monday of doing the same against France.

Haider was one of the few prominent Europeans speaking out for Le Pen Monday. In an interview with ORF radio, he said: “Anyone who speaks out against excessive and uncontrolled immigration or the abuse of the asylum laws in the context of center-right politics is immediately branded as extremist. But as time goes on, our citizens are not putting up with this anymore.”

With 99.11 percent of the vote counted, Chirac had 19.83 percent and Le Pen 16.91 percent, with the rest spread among the Socialist prime minister, Lionel Jospin (16.14 percent), and 13 other candidates.