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French rivals pledge united front

Police patrol the streets of Barcelona ahead of the summit  

PARIS, France -- French President Jacques Chirac says he will shelve his differences with election rival Lionel Jospin when the pair represent their country at this week's European Union summit.

The presidential race has become increasingly bitter since Prime Minister Jospin and Chirac announced their candidacies last month.

"You will observe... that the French delegation I lead will defend the interests of France with responsibility, authority and dignity," Chirac told RTL radio on Thursday.

The two men, who have shared power for five years in a tense arrangement known in France as "cohabitation", are to attend the summit in Barcelona, Spain, on Friday.

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The conservative Chirac says that the interests of France come first when he meets Jospin, a socialist, at Cabinet meetings or at summits. "In Barcelona the position of France is one," he declared.

Growing conflict between Chirac and Jospin has eclipsed the cases of most of the other candidates who hope to take part in the first of two rounds of voting on April 21 and May 5.

On Thursday Chirac, slipping in the opinion polls, challenged Jospin's left-wing government over law and order amid a rise in teenage murders, rapes and street theft highlighted daily in the media

"There are two different cultures in France, one I would call lax and permissive, which has traditionally been that of the left, and a more realistic culture respecting rights, especially the rights to live a normal life, which is the one I prefer," Chirac told RTL.

On Sunday Jospin had told journalists that Chirac was "tired, old, the victim of a certain wear-and-tear."


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