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Political 'earthquake' hits France

PARIS, France (CNN) -- France's media has reflected the shock felt by the nation following the success of far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen in knocking out Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin in the presidential election's first round.

"Earthquake" screamed the headlines in the centre-right Le Figaro and centre-left Le Monde.

"Shock" and "No" emblazoned the front pages of left-leaning newspapers Le Parisien and Liberation.

The election ended with Chirac in first place with 20 percent, Le Pen with 17, and Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin with 16. Chirac and Le Pen make it through to a May 5 second-round election that will decide the presidency.

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

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All pre-election polls had pointed to a second place for Jospin, who has announced he will retire from public office, and voters and political heads alike were stunned when Le Pen got through to second place.

Liberation wrote in an editorial: "It was not a first round, it was a cataclysm.

"France is being pointed at, ... as a source of shame among democracies." It said French voters were "playing with fire."

Liberation also blamed the startling poll results on record low turnout and the "cohabitation" that forced Chirac and Jospin to share executive power over the past five years.

It added "the fact that incumbents are the favourites also convinced some that, truly, nothing really changed in France."

Le Figaro said the results were the sign of "a huge gap between political representation and the reality of the electorate. Between talking and the reality of what the French are living."

In Britain, the Guardian broadsheet newspaper said the results had shocked France, and raised questions over whether the post of president still had any relevance.

Le Pen denied he was a dictator, saying he represented mainstream voters
Le Pen denied he was a dictator, saying he represented mainstream voters  

Newspapers blamed a backlash against left-wing parties generally in Europe and also the fact Jospin and Chirac had focused their campaigns on crime -- which has also been a familiar theme for Le Pen, who has blamed growing crime figures on immigrants.

The France-Soir tabloid said Le Pen's success would be a boon for Chirac in the second round, but spelt difficult for upcoming parliamentary elections.

It said: "The Le Pen cataclysm turns the resident of the Elysee (Chirac) into a hyper-winner in the second round. But not the favourite for the legislative elections."

France-Soir blamed Jospin's downfall on the large number of left-wing candidates in the first round that sapped his support.

L'Humanite, a newspaper associated with the Communist party, said: "A dangerous situation has been created."

It added: "There is no other word for it: it is a disaster."


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