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Rightwing wrests one more French town - The Hindu

Vaiju Naravane ()
11 February 1997

Title : Rightwing wrests one more French town
Author : Vaiju Naravane
Publication : The Hindu
Date : February 11, 1997

France's extreme right wing party, the National Front, won a
crucial election in the southern town of Vitrolles, wresting it
from the Socialist Party. The National Front, which has made
anti-immigrant rhetoric its principal electoral platform, now
controls four cities in France, including Toulon, base of the
country's southern naval command.

Supporters of the Socialist Party and the National Front fought
each other in the streets of Vitrolles after the results were
declared. The Anti-Racist League described the election results as
"a blow to democracy, a shame. A fourth town in France has fallen
into the hands of a party whose only discourse is one of hatred and
exclusion. France is the only country in Europe where large towns
are run by a neo-fascist party."

Ms. Catherine Megret who fought the election in place of her
husband. Mr. Bruno Megret, the National Front's second in command,
said: "This victory above all belongs to my husband," Mr. Megret
was declared ineligible for office after his victory in Vitrolles
two years ago because he spent more money than allotted to him for
his campaign. The Megret couple are known to be hardliners and are
expected to take a tough stand against immigrants, of whom there is
a very sizeable population in Vitrolles. Ms. Megret won a more
than convincing Victory with 52.5 per cent of the votes in the
second round held on Sunday.

The conservative candidate fielded by the ruling RPR-UDF coalition
had come a poor third in the first round and the conservatives had
called on their voters to transfer their, votes to Mr. Jean Jacques
Anglade, defeated socialist Mayor, The Front won by a big margin
partly also because Mr. Anglade had been accused of large-scale
corruption. The town, close to Marseille, is on the verge of
bankruptcy. The RPR-UDF coalition today described the Socialist
Party as "inept and inefficient." The candidate chosen by the Left
was known to be corrupt and therefore stood no a chance against the
National Front.

Mr. Jean Marie Le Pen, controversial leader of the National Front,
described the election as the "the lark of the French spring. We
will show them that the National Front can become the first, the
leading party in France." The National Front his climbed steady in
the polls since 1974 when it won 0.74 per cent of the vote in the
presidential poll. In 1995, Mr. Le pen won 15.15 per cent of the
vote in the presidential election and his party captured the
municipalities of Toulon, Orange and Marigniane in southern France
a little later.

Vitrolles was ripe for picking by the National Front. The earlier
Mayor had made a mess of the town's urbanism with large scale
speculation in real estate. The town is plagued by an unemployment
rate of 22 per cent and many of the inhabitants lay the blame at
the door of the large immigrant population.

Voters interviewed on television often gave such inane reasons for
backing Mr. Le Pen as: "There are too many Arabs here and they make
too much noise," or: "I do not want my children growing up next to
Arab kids," or "My house has been burgled. There is too much
delinquence around. Only the National Front can put the criminals
behind bars."

In the three other towns where the National Front controls the
municipalities, the party has taken measures that can only be
termed shocking. For example, in Marigniane, the Mayor ordered that
the local library become a permanent subscriber to extreme right
wing newspapers and party organs. Some 40 books by extreme right
wing writers have been ordered and placed on the shelves of the
local libraries.

Schools have been told to scrap special porkless menus for Jewish
and Muslim children. A humanitarians Organisation which gives free
food to the poor lost the use of the municipal van. In its stead,
the Mayor created another association called Fraternite Francaise
which gives food only to French persons in need.

"I see the arrival of the National Front as a dangerous
development. But the French have always been racist. Look at what
happened during the war years. The French lived happily with the
anti-Jewish Vichy regime, they co-operated with the Germans and
denounced the Jews to the Gestapo. Now that economically things are
going badly. they have pounced upon the Arabs and are voting for Le
Pen. This is part of the French character which has always lacked
generosity despite France's reputation as a country of asylum,"
said Ms. Dominique Penicault sociologist.

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