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Far-right Le Pen tells supporters to abstain in French presidential runoff

Far-right Le Pen tells supporters to abstain in French presidential runoff

Far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen called on supporters to abstain en masse in France's presidential runoff this weekend and looked to revive his party after a stinging first-round defeat by candidates who took up his nationalistic themes.
Le Pen set his sights on June legislative elections, telling at least 4,000 supporters packing the square of the Paris Opera House on Tuesday that this would be the time for "legitimate revenge."
It was difficult to predict the effects of Le Pen's abstention call on Sunday's runoff vote between conservative Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist Segolene Royal _ but it added new uncertainty and, if followed, could dent Sarkozy's vote.
"It would be illusory and dangerous to vote for the Socialist candidate to avenge Nicolas Sarkozy's holdup of our program," Le Pen said. "But it would also be insane to hand our votes to a candidate who continues to consider us extremists ... ," Le Pen told the crowd, gathered for his traditional May Day march to honor Joan of Arc, the "patron saint" of Le Pen's National Front party.
Both candidates are in their 50s and represent a new generation of politicians rising to govern France. They belong to parties "that led France into the deplorable situation" of today, Le Pen said, citing an erosion of the French economy, prestige and values.
President Jacques Chirac is stepping down after 12 years in office.
Cries of "Le Pen president!" periodically rang out from the crowd.
"All our votes were stolen by traitor Sarkozy," said supporter Frederic Georgan, 27, wrapped in a French flag.
Sarkozy took up the traditional themes of Le Pen's National Front party during his campaign _ the French identity and immigration _ and, in a first, blatantly said he was after the votes of the 78-year-old Le Pen who was in his fifth presidential contest.
The strategy worked. Analysts concluded that Sarkozy, who won the first round and maintains an edge in the polls, profited from far-right votes. A new poll suggested 61 percent of those who voted Le Pen would pick Sarkozy in the runoff. However, the poll was conducted before Le Pen's call to abstain.
Royal, too, resorted to a Le Pen-like strategy, breaking with leftist tradition to play the French national anthem at rallies and tell supporters to fly the French flag on Bastille Day, July 14.
Sarkozy and Royal meet for a televised debate Wednesday, a potentially determining moment before the election.
Royal held a giant rally and free concert at a Paris sports stadium Tuesday that drew more than 40,000 people _ far outnumbering attendance at an indoor rally last Sunday by Sarkozy.
Royal, taking the stage with a host of French rock stars, lashed out at Sarkozy, whose "brutality," she said, "could endanger social peace, civil peace."
"This danger is inscribed in the conservative candidate's platform," she told the cheering crowd. "I want civil peace in my country!"
Le Pen's poor fourth-place finish in the April 22 first-round vote contrasted with the second-place score that sent him into a showdown with Chirac in 2002 elections. Left and right then joined forces in a rare display of unity to bar Le Pen from victory.
"I was disappointed and pained by the results," Le Pen said of this year's race in which he took 10.4 percent of the vote, behind Sarkozy, Royal and Francois Bayrou, the centrist leader who became a surprise third force but who decided against advising supporters how to vote Sunday.
"I don't feel defeat. I feel indignation and rage," he said during an hour-long speech.
"I invite voters who trusted me not to cast ballots for Madame Royal or Mr. Sarkozy," Le Pen said. "I invite them expressly to abstain massively, reserving themselves for the first round of legislative elections, on June 10 and June 17."
Le Pen, known for his oratory skills, spoke for a full hour, but his age makes a sixth presidential run highly implausible. And his weak first-round score _ his second worst performance in a presidential race _ has left the National Front in conflict with some blaming his daughter and campaign director Marine Le Pen for working to soften her father's image.
"We had a reversal in circumstances, but we have not been beaten," Le Pen said, bolstering morale. "It is we who were right."
The latest poll, released Tuesday by the Ipsos agency, put support for Sarkozy at 53 percent, to 47 percent for Royal.
Among those who cast ballots for Le Pen in the first round, 61 percent said they would vote for Sarkozy, 15 percent for Royal, while 24 percent planned to abstain or declined to reply.
The poll of 1,362 registered voters was conducted by telephone Saturday through Monday with a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.


Updated : 2021-05-07 15:25 GMT+08:00