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Europe

Chirac Refuses Le Pen Debate

French President Chirac rules out a television debate with his rightwing adversary Le Pen. Meanwhile demonstrators against Le Pen take to the streets for the third night in a row.

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Students demonstrate against rightwinger Le Pen holding the French flag with a swastika

French President Jacques Chirac has refused to hold a televised debate with his surprise adversary in the presidential election, rightwinger Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Under pressure to take on Le Pen and his extremist views, Chirac has declared that such "intolerance and hatred" emanating from the aniti-immigrant made a debate impossible.

Jean-Marie Le Pen immediately accused the French president of attacking the rules of democracy by refusing.

According to a recent opinion survey, seven out of ten French are in favour of a televion debate between the two.

Critics say that Chirac may have refused for fears that Le Pen could put him on the spot over sleaze allegations during the incumbent president’s role as mayor of Paris.

But Chirac said it was a matter of principle. "Just as I did not accept any alliance in the past with the National Front, whatever the political price, I will not accept a debate with its leader in the future," he told a campaign rally.

More protests

Le Pen, speaking in a television interview, said he would pull France out of the European Union if he won the second round of voting on May 5.

As Le Pen repeated pledges for EU withdrawal, the deportation of immigrants and the restoration of the French franc, street protests continued. Adults and children took to the streets in Paris, Lyon and Rennes.

Meanwhile, European leaders have called to unite against the French rightwinger, who so surprisingly won 17 per cent in the first round of the presidential election.

British prime Minister Tony Blair attacked Le Pen for promoting racism and narrow-minded nationalism.

In one of the strongest barrages delivered by a European leader since Le Pen’s success, Blair said: "I don’t know Le Pen, but I find his policies repellent".

He also urged all European leaders to be more alert to voter apathy, which can prove fatal for democracy.

His comments come as British political leaders are looking anxiously to the far-right British National Party: Polls suggest voter apathy could open the doors to the right-wingers in local elections next week.

More careful warnings came from the US.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher called for politicians to speak out against all acts of hatred and anti-Semitism and to protect minority rights, but declined to refer to Le Pen by name.

German foreign minister Joschka Fischer described the high number of rightwing votes "alarming" . A leading member of Chancellor Schröder's Social Democrats (SPD) fears a European-wide swing to the right. SPD General Secretary Franz Müntefering called to all sensible voters in France to prevent Le Pen’s election on May 5.

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