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Chirac landslide against Le Pen

PARIS, France (CNN) -- President Jacques Chirac has been re-elected in a landslide victory over extreme-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, after a dramatic presidential race that shook France and much of Europe.

With all votes counted in mainland France, Interior Ministry figures gave Chirac 82 percent of the vote, and Le Pen 18 percent, The Associated Press reported.

Chirac's massive victory was helped by a bigger turnout than for the April 21 first round, when 28 percent of voters stayed at home.

Turnout on Sunday was estimated at about 80 percent, with 20 percent abstaining.

"We have gone through a time of serious anxiety for the country," Chirac said in his victory speech. "But tonight, France has reaffirmed its attachment to values of the Republic." (Full story)

Jacques Chirac claimed the largest margin of victory ever in the French presidential election as he defeated far-right candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen in a landslide. CNN's Jim Bittermann reports (May 5)

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CNN's Robin Oakley has more on the the vote for a new French president (May 5)

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He promised to immediately address the issue of crime, which had emerged a top voter concern.

Le Pen, from his headquarters near Paris, called the result "a stinging defeat for hope in France."

"Lies have been told about us, lies have been told about me, and I have been made into a figure of caricature," Le Pen said. "I was constantly and cynically criticized ... and my adversary refused to debate with me."

Chirac's supporters were delighted at the huge margin, but the result was still likely to leave a legacy for French politics.

Chirac has promised to immediately begin implementing a law-and-order agenda, responding to voters concern about rising crime.

CNN's European Political Correspondent Robin Oakley said that the signs were President Chirac had already started to reinvent himself -- portraying himself an a highly inclusive politician taking up a position in the centre.

"But one thing he didn't address, having raised in his speech the suggestion that politics in France had to change, he didn't have anything to suggest how the political system should change," says Oakley.

"He did not say how people are going to change the technocrats who seem to be running French politics, who have alienated the people and who have gained Le Pen his temporary success."

Chirac's Socialist prime minister, Lionel Jospin, whom Le Pen unexpectedly edged out in the first round, has said he will leave his job immediately after the election so the government's resignation will be on the table on Monday.

The early signs for Chirac looked good. Opinion polls on Sunday said he was poised to win a centre-right majority in parliament to back up his presidential win.

Based on polling conducted last week before Sunday's runoff, the Sofres survey found centre-right parties loyal to Chirac could win some 301 seats in the 577-seat National Assembly in legislative elections in June.

Centre-left parties, including Socialists and Greens, were predicted to win 252 seats with the extreme right getting into parliament for the first time since 1988, gaining two seats.

As Sunday's events unfolded, both Chirac and Le Pen voted early -- Chirac in central Paris and Le Pen in the southwest Paris suburb of Saint-Cloud -- as voters across the country turned out under grey skies.

By 5 p.m. (1500 GMT) voter turnout had outstripped turnout in the first round.

Chirac had called on voters of all political persuasion to unite behind him against the extremism of Le Pen.

Certainly for some in France the election, divisive as it was, was a unifying force as well.

Street protests against Le Pen drew people hundreds of thousands from across the political spectrum, of all ages and strata of society, to march in the same cause of defeating extremism.

The nationalist Le Pen, who wants to withdraw France from the European Union and end immigration, had labelled Chirac a crook after he became embroiled in a corruption probe.

Jospin allies on the left urged people to vote for Chirac, even if they found it distasteful, in order to stop Le Pen, whom they denounced as a dangerous extremist. Chirac, who refused a televised debate with Le Pen, made the same pitch.

That led to left-wing suggestions that voters denied a real choice should vote wearing gloves or with clothes pegs on their noses.

On the day that protest failed significantly to materialise after a warning such demonstrations could nullify the right to vote. (Full story)

It was Le Pen's fourth bid for France's top post. He had called on the French people to reject traditional, mainstream politicians who he said failed to reduce crime, unemployment and immigration.

His calls for reserving jobs and social benefits for French citizens -- "France for the French" -- have led critics to brand him as racist and xenophobic.

Le Pen was found guilty in 1990 under a French law which bans denial of the Holocaust after he said Nazi gas chambers were a historical detail. But he steadfastly denies he is anti-Semitic.

French observers are now looking forward parliamentary elections and to seeing what impact the Le Pen phenomenon will have.

Those elections, held in two rounds on June 9 and 16, will determine the colour of the next government and may end the former "cohabitation" between a conservative president and a socialist prime minister.

The much-publicised inability of Chirac and Jospin to get on was seen as a negative force in French government.




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