- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 2, 2002

PARIS Protests against presidential candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen climaxed yesterday ahead of the vote on Sunday as traditional May Day parades turned into massive rallies against the hard-core nationalist, with more than 1 million people converging on the streets of France.

"We have to stop [Le Pen] in his tracks," trade union demonstrator Luc Montaigne said in Paris. "This election is going to be a referendum to show we have to get Le Pen out, rather than a vote for Chirac."

Incumbent President Jacques Chirac, with the support of the left added to his conservative base, is expected to win easily a new five-year term on Sunday.

In Paris, an estimated 400,000 people participated in the biggest march in the city since an education demonstration in 1984. Mr. Le Pen drew 10,000 to 20,000 at a rival rally by his National Front party.

"We have four days to win the battle for France. Lift your hearts. We can win Sunday because we have faith and love of the homeland on our side," Mr. Le Pen said.

In a scathing denunciation of Mr. Chirac, Mr. Le Pen said: "The outgoing president is the godfather of the clans who've been bleeding the country for two decades and living the high life with French people's money."

Official figures put the overall number of demonstrators on the nation's streets at 1.3 million.

Crowds surged through the springtime boulevards of Paris to the tune of their favorite marching songs, many with badges and signs branding Mr. Le Pen a "dangerous fascist."

Mr. Le Pen, 73, a former paratrooper, has pledged to deport all illegal immigrants and any immigrants in French jails and to build 200,000 additional prison cells.

He says he wants to protect "poor white" families from immigrants, mainly Arabs from Northern Africa.

Hundreds of black-uniformed riot officers lined the route of his rally past the Louvre museum and the statue of the medieval heroine Joan of Arc, to Opera Square, where Mr. Le Pen addressed his supporters.

Police said they had mobilized 3,500 officers, but the demonstrations were without incident.

Many of the demonstrators showed up to protest the April 21 first-round vote. Some 29.5 million people cast ballots, a turnout of 71 percent, which is considered low in France.

In a field of 16 candidates, Mr. Chirac came in first, with 19.88 percent of the vote. Mr. Le Pen came in second, with 16.86 percent.

Throughout the country yesterday, protest marches against Mr. Le Pen took place in dozens of towns and cities.

Police reported 50,000 demonstrators in Grenoble and Lyon, 40,000 in Bordeaux and Toulouse, 30,000 in Marseilles, and 20,000 in Montpellier, Rennes, Nantes and Caen, with slightly smaller numbers in smaller towns.

In the ethnically mixed Mediterranean city of Marseilles, where about a quarter of the voters chose Mr. Le Pen on April 21, left-wing protesters said they would vote for Mr. Chirac on Sunday but with a heavy heart.

"For me, Le Pen's policies are like a return to year zero," said Cecile Boudard, a drama student walking on a pair of stilts.

"Le Pen's success has really shocked me. This is a city where everybody mixes well, but to find out that nearly 25 percent of the people here voted Le Pen really makes you think."

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