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Oakley: 'Shock, horror, disbelief' in France

Oakley, outside Le Pen's headquarters: "Jean-Marie Le Pen was like a man who just had six birthdays in one day."  

PARIS, France (CNN) -- The French public is still coming to grips with the outcome of the first round of presidential elections, which saw the rise of far-right candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen and the downfall of Prime Minister Lionel Jospin.

Robin Oakley talked with supporters of both candidates on Sunday, later discussing their feelings and the sentiment on the streets with CNN International Anchor Monita Rajpal.

ROBIN OAKLEY: Here at the headquarters behind me, Jean-Marie Le Pen was like a man who just had six birthdays in one day.

I don't think he can quite believe what's happened to him.

He had the greatest difficulty getting together the 500 signatures to enable him to run in this presidential race at all. He's run three times before in a French presidential election, and the best he's ever done was fourth place.

Le Pen shocked many in France by defeating Jospin. CNN's Jim Bittermann reports (April 22)

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Now he's in second place going into the final round with President Jacques Chirac.

The supporters who greeted Jean-Marie Le Pen when the results became known this evening were absolutely, deliriously happy.

He told them to continue to dream the dream. And he said he was appealing to France's small businessmen, to the victims of crime and to the farmers.

And he clearly hopes that he can keep his message going.

He's made his success so far by putting crime on the top of his agenda, which Chirac also did in these elections. Doing that has clearly paid off for Jean-Marie Le Pen.

MONITA RAJPAL: What is the French reaction, beyond Le Pen's supporters, to these results?

OAKLEY: The French people, particularly the other parties, are reacting with shock, horror and disbelief.

I was earlier at the headquarters of the socialist prime minister, Lionel Jospin. People there, his party workers, simply could not believe what had happened. They were embracing each other, they were in tears, they were in shock.

But they did recognize, at the same time, that Jospin had not fought an effective campaign.

He had been prime minister for five years and Chirac had been president for seven years. They had come together in co-habitation and produced very similar programs.

A lot of the electorate who wanted to protest about the way things had been going therefore went for the outside candidates -- for the extreme candidates of left and right. [That decision was aided] by the sameness of the programs of the two major candidates.

And Jospin's people recognized that he made a mistake there, and that he paid a penalty for being the prime minister in a year in which crime had risen by 8 percent.




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