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AC/DC protest but little latex

PARIS, France -- French voters took their democratic task seriously for the presidential runoff, with few donning nose-pegs or rubber gloves as had been suggested as a silent protest.

Left-wingers had threatened such shows of defiance to make plain their resentment at what they saw as an obligation to vote for Jaques Chirac simply to keep Jean-Marie Le Pen out of power. (Full story)

But the Constitutional Council, France's highest court, said that voters who wore gloves or nose-pegs in symbolic protest could have their ballots annulled -- and most voters heeded the warning.

Officials had also threatened to be tough. The mayor of one of the districts in eastern city of Lyon, Dominique Bolliet, said he would not tolerate any such accessories in his municipality because "the polling station is a sanctuary."

Even so, one polling station in Bordeaux did discover a latex glove in one of its booths.

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A voter in his 50s also turned up at the station dressed like a schoolboy, wearing shorts and a cap, saying "they told us on television to turn up correctly dressed and I decided to copy the style of Angus Young" -- the lead guitarist of Australian hard rock group AC/DC famous for hits like "Highway to Hell."

The pranks underscored the fact that this was unlike previous French polls. Instead of being a classic left-right confrontation, it had become a referendum on Le Pen's candidacy.

"Of course I voted for Chirac," 26-year-old investment adviser Olivier Casteau told Reuters as he left a polling station in Paris's trendy fourth arrondissement. "I tend more to the left, but it wasn't that difficult."

"For most people there's no choice at all," said Charles Delaurent, a Paris voter and veteran left-winger who said he once stood himself against Chirac in a local election in the 1960s. "I hope we'll see at least 70 percent against Le Pen, although 80 to 90 percent would be better," he said.

Christophe Chavereau, 34, who voted for the Green Party candidate in the first round, told The Associated Press he felt obliged to vote for Chirac even though the incumbent was not his first choice.

"It's clear that Le Pen must not win," he said as he left a polling station in a working-class neighbourhood of eastern Paris. "The fact that Le Pen has gotten this far shows that people don't understand. They think he's going to save us from public insecurity, but that's not true."

Others saw Le Pen as a vehicle for change.

"I voted the same way I did in the first round: Le Pen," retired electrician Andre Gleizol, 89 told AP. "There's no question whether Chirac will win -- he will, but he is just going to be a phantom, do-nothing president again."

Some early voters found themselves being press-ganged into being overseers due to a shortage of election monitors.

Council workers were also called in at the last moment to help out.

In Montpellier in southern France, municipal authorities grabbed at least 84 early voters and, under a provision in the electoral law, were making them sit out the day in the stations that did not have the required four monitors.

Out of Montpellier's 115 polling stations, only three had sufficient monitor numbers to operate from the 8 a.m. (0600 GMT) start.

Half had only two monitors -- one each representing Chirac and Le Pen -- and another 42 had none at all.

The supervisor of each polling station chose early voters with reliable electoral records to make up the numbers, though several polling stations were forced to open late.

They said that they preferred to say the dragooned voters were "volunteers" rather than "requisitioned".




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