Jacques Chirac cruised to a comfortable victory in France's presidential election last night, defeating his Socialist rival, Lionel Jospin, by 52.8 per cent to 47.2 per cent, according to computer projections.
In an acceptance speech to thousands of supporters massed at the Htel de Ville in Paris, Mr Chirac pledged to make the struggle against unemployment and social deprivation his priority. "Our main battle has a name: the fight against unemployment," he said. "I am aware of the difficulty of the task ahead of us. Let us be tolerant and fraternal, but also inventive and audacious."
If not a great surprise, the win was supremely satisfying to the 62- year-old Gaullist mayor of Paris who failed in his attempts for the presidency in 1981 and 1988 and suffered a setback at the hands of Mr Jospin in the first round of voting. The franc rose sharply as foreign exchange markets digested the news.
Chirac supporters waved flags, blared car horns and chanted victory slogans in the streets around the Champs Elyses as the projected result was announced at 8pm. At Mr Chirac's headquarters there was bedlam. The whole streetwas cordoned off, riot police lined the approach roads and brass bands played.
By midnight the Place de la Concorde, and all approaches to it, were jammed solid with traffic and celebrating Chirac supporters. The president- elect was making his way towards the throng in a limousine, flanked by scores of official and unofficial motor-cycle out-riders.
At Mr Jospin's headquarters, there was shock as the results were announced. The television declaration was heard in silence, followed by boos. Some women burst into tears.
Mr Chirac's victory puts France firmly under the leadership of the right. He will serve as President for seven years - into the next millennium. The National Assembly has been dominated by the right since its electoral landslide in 1993.
With President Mitterrand in increasingly poor health, the official handover date of 20 May is likely to be brought forward. One of the first decisions of President Chirac is expected to be to dump the present Prime Minister, Edouard Balladur, the man who challenged him for the centre- right nomination in the first round. Mr Chirac is expected to replace him with the respected foreign minister, Alain Jupp.
Mr Jospin attempted to distance himself from the tarnished image of Mr Mitterrand's socialism and to convey an impression of decency to the electorate. But the odds against him were too great.
Mr Chirac presented himself as a modernising, conservative force for reform, and as a statesman who could break the back of France's most serious problem, an unemployment rate of 12.2 per cent. Mr Chirac has a reputation for inconsistency. He seemed uncertain over how much to woo voters on the far right. He softened his tough line on Muslim immigrants after a young Moroccan was murdered by skinheads in Paris.
He will preside over one of the greatest turning points in French history if he takes France into a currency union with Germany and other EU countries. Though seen as less enthusiastic than Mr Jospin for monetary and political union, Mr Chirac said he wanted a single currency by 1999.
The result indicated that the surge towards European integrationism, led by Mr Mitterrand and Jacques Delors, the former European Commission president, had given way to a more cautious form of pro- Europeanism.
Mr Jospin may look back on the result without shame. After Mr Delors decided not to run for the presidency, some commentators had predicted a Socialist candidate would not even make it to the second round.
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