Ashamed French resist Le Pen

April 26, 2002

Thousands of university and lycée students protested at the unexpected success of the far-right candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen in reaching the second round of the French presidential election this week.

Within hours of the result being declared on Sunday evening, spontaneous protests were staged in several cities, the largest in Paris where 30,000 people, most under 25, demonstrated. Handwritten signs declared: "I weep, I weep, I am ashamed to be French." In Toulouse 3,000 people demonstrated, 4,000 protested in Rennes and 1,000 in Strasbourg, capital of Le Pen's Alsace stronghold.

On Monday, universities in Lille and Rennes closed down, and the principal student union, the UNEF, called on students to observe a national day of protest on Thursday. Attempts were being made to organise nationwide protests for Saturday.

With many schools on holiday, mobilisation among lycée students was less immediate, but in some cities where schools were open, hundreds of students walked out of their classes, often with the tacit blessing of their teachers.

Protests are planned to continue until May 1, when trade unions traditionally stage marches. These are likely to be joined by large numbers of students. Supporters of Mr Le Pen, who is 73 and has run for the presidency four times, also plan to hold rallies on May 1.

Mr Le Pen, with 16.86 per cent of the vote, came second to the current president, Jacques Chirac, who won 19.88 per cent. To widespread dismay, Lionel Jospin, the Socialist candidate and prime minister, was beaten into third place with 16.18 per cent.

An analysis of voting patterns suggests that young voters were in part responsible for the drop in Mr Jospin's support, which allowed Mr Le Pen to beat him by a margin of about 200,000 votes. In 1995, 21 per cent of the 18 to 24 age group voted for Mr Jospin, while this year it was only 13 per cent. A Trotskyist postman, Olivier Besancenot, took almost 14 per cent of the votes among 18 to 24-year-olds.

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