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Jospin turns poll heat on Chirac

Jospin is trailing Chirac in opinion polls  

PARIS, France -- French presidential candidate Lionel Jospin has used a general strike in Italy to invoke fear into the electorate.

Jospin, who is lagging in the opinion polls with the first round of voting being held on Sunday, said the unrest seen in Italy on Tuesday could be repeated in France if his poll rival Jacques Chirac is re-elected.

"If the outgoing president is returned, given what has happened in the past when he was in charge and given what is at the heart of his policies, I don't think we would get to 2007 without a crisis," Prime Minister Jospin told Europe 1 radio on Wednesday.

He added: "Let me remind you that the government he named stopped after two years, that he dissolved (the Assembly) and that we've been running the country since."

In-depth: France Decides 2002 
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Recent opinion polls show Jospin trailing Chirac for Sunday's first-round of voting.

Polls predict a narrow Chirac victory in a runoff between the top two contenders on May 5.

Chirac is not the only presidential candidate Jospin has attacked. On Tuesday, he aimed his sights on Arlette Laguiller, one of three Trotskyite contenders.

He said she is not interested in what happens after the Sunday election.

Although ahead in the polls, the attack on Chirac by his main rival comes a day after the president faced the re-emergence of a legal investigation with which he has links.

On Tuesday, a court in Paris placed five people under investigation in an embezzlement probe.

The probe is one of several investigations into sleaze at Paris City Hall during Chirac's time as mayor between 1977 and 1995.

Judges last year sought to question Chirac who cited presidential immunity and avoided being called to give evidence.

Opinion polls suggest Sunday could see a record abstention rate and that Chirac and Jospin between them could win less than 40 percent of the ballot, with votes dispersed among the crowded field of 16 candidates.

Chirac leads a field of 16 candidates  

A survey for Le Monde newspaper said as many as 26 percent of France's 40 million voters could stay away from polling stations next Sunday, a record for the country.

The respondents gave Jospin higher marks for honesty, sincerity and competence than Chirac, but rated law and order -- Chirac's central campaign theme -- as their No. 1 concern.

The French president's term has been shortened to five years from seven.

At the last presidential election in 1995, Jospin led after the first round with 23.3 percent of votes. Chirac won 20.8 percent of the vote and triumphed in the runoff with 52.6.


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