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Thousands protest against Le Pen

PARIS, France -- Thousands of students have taken to the streets of Paris and other French towns in another show of protest against far-right presidential candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Students shouted slogans 'Save the Republic' and held anti-Fascist banners while teenagers too young to vote criticised older French people for having failed their country.

"I can't begin to understand why people old enough to vote didn't bother. I just hope they'll come to their senses for the second round," 16-year-old Parisian Yael Flauder told Reuters news agency.

Police in Paris had been braced for violence on Monday as students returned from holiday but CNN's Chris Burns said the day had passed peacefully.

Demonstrations have taken place everyday since Le Pen recorded a shock 17 percent of the vote in the first-round on April 21 -- propelling him into the run-off on Sunday.

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More protests held against Le Penrench soccer star Zinedine Zidane has also joined the chorus of protest against Le Pen, urging people to vote against him in the upcoming presidential runoff, the Associated Press reported.

Zidane, the son of Algerian immigrants who became a national hero after leading France to the World Cup, told France-Info radio that people must "think -- and I stress my words -- about the consequences of voting for a party that does not at all correspond to the values of France."

Other players in France's national team, whose 1998 World Cup victory was considered by many as a victory over ethnic divisions in the country, have also expressed alarm about Le Pen's success in the April 21 first round.

"Democracy is at stake here," captain Marcel Desailly said on his official Web site. "It's an undeniable fact that (Le Pen's) political party is a fascist party."

Le Pen, who has previously accused the media of being against him, has used his equal allocation of airtime to get his anti-immigration and anti-Europe electoral message across.

Le Pen, 73, can now be heard two or three times a day on radio and television.

He lambasted Ernest-Antoine Seilliere, head of the main employers' association Medef, on Monday after being accused of heralding a "decline without precedent" in France's economy if the former paratrooper is to be elected.

Le Pen's only public events will be the annual May 1 National Front march in Paris honouring medieval heroine Joan of Arc and a rally in Marseille Thursday.

Le Pen won a place in the May 5 run-off behind incumbent President Jacques Chirac, elbowing Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin into third place and an unexpected early retirement from politics.

Officials fear that as Sunday's poll approaches, feelings will intensify and police will face greater difficulty in controlling crowds.

Many French politicians are concerned that any violence will play into the hands of Le Pen, who has focussed much on his campaign on France's worsening crime figures.

Le Pen says that if he is elected, he will cut ties with the European Union and restore border controls. He supports the death penalty.

Tensions are expected to reach their peak on Wednesday, when rallies held by National Front supporters will coincide with International Workers Day, or May Day, marches, expected to be widely attended by anti-Le Pen students.

About 3,500 police officers are expected to be deployed for the May Day demonstrations, Paris police headquarters said on Monday.

But opinion polls show that the far-right leader has little chance of defeating Chirac, who is expected to benefit from many Jospin supporters switching their votes to the president to keep Le Pen out of power.

A poll published by daily newspaper Le Figaro on Monday indicates Le Pen could win up to 26 percent of the vote, with Chirac likely to receive between 74 and 81 percent.

Separately, a survey for France-Info radio indicated that 56 percent of voters who plan to vote for Chirac simply would do so as a way to block Le Pen.




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