- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 4, 2002

PARIS On the final day of France's tense and often bitter presidential campaign, incumbent President Jacques Chirac yesterday called on voters to sweep him to victory and soundly defeat his challenger, Jean-Marie Le Pen.

"The program I offer, I firmly believe, is in the interests of all French people, not the French from the right or the left," Mr. Chirac said.

Mr. Le Pen cried foul, warning of "huge electoral fraud" and speaking of a "hate campaign" against him ahead of tomorrow's runoff election.

In a speech to supporters in the southern Mediterranean city of Marseilles, Mr. Le Pen said he was being "cheated" of victory.

Mr. Le Pen asked voters to rid France of its "corrupt occupation," a reference to charges of bribe taking against Mr. Chirac and corruption within the power elite in France.

At a midday press conference, Mr. Le Pen also cited several examples of fraud, such as voters receiving two ballots bearing Mr. Chirac's name, instead of one for each candidate, and the failure to deliver some election documents.

Registered French voters receive ballot papers and other information by mail ahead of an election.

"It's a laundry list of cheating methods," Mr. Le Pen said.

Final opinion polls show Mr. Le Pen garnering up to 25 percent of the vote tomorrow, compared with just under 17 percent in the first round.

Mr. Chirac, raising a central theme of voter concern that caused 5 million to cast ballots for Mr. Le Pen in the first round, promised to deal with crime by creating a new ministry of internal security.

"I will put in place measures that will permit bringing insecurity under control," he said. They would include the creation by decree of a ministry of internal security, and a council of insecurity, over which he would preside, as well as new police task forces.

Mr. Chirac, 69, has said that if his Rally for the Republic party wins the legislative elections next month, he will pass laws to increase the size of the police, and reorganize the justice and prison systems.

Left-wing parties have rallied to Mr. Chirac in a bid to hand Mr. Le Pen, 73, a decisive defeat, but hope to capture a majority in the National Assembly the following month.

Mr. Le Pen shocked the country by coming in second in the first-round vote on April 21 with an anti-immigrant, anti-crime platform often described as "far-right."

He knocked out the left-wing's main candidate, Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, who came in third.

Mr. Chirac said in a radio interview yesterday that the "extremist" platform of Mr. Le Pen's National Front party aimed to "feed, through demagoguery, a popular rejection or dissatisfaction with respect to democracy. And that is dangerous."

Mr. Le Pen says he will withdraw from the European Union and abandon the 12-nation euro currency if elected. Mr. Chirac says those actions would cause France to be banished from Europe and the world.

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