Narrow victory for French Left in poll poll

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The Independent Online
LIONEL Jospin's left-wing coalition government claimed victory in French regional elections yesterday, but fell short of the sweeping successes it had expected. With several of the 22 regions too close to call, it seemed that the Socialist-Communist-Green alliance would top the poll in between 12 and 15 contests.

The Left seemed likely to prevail in the most populous and politically significant regions, the Ile-de-France (greater Paris) and Provence-Alpes- Cote d'Azur. But in these regions, and a dozen others, the far-right National Front (FN) polled so heavily that neither the left nor the centre right could claim an outright victory. The leaders of the two centre-right formations, the Gaullists and the UDF, once again pledged last night that they would do no deals with the FN to win power in any region. They will, however, come under intense pressure from their own grass roots, and the FN, to reconsider this strategy before regional assembly presidents are chosen on Friday.

Although the FN fell short of the record nationwide score predicted by opinion polls, it seemed to have matched, or slightly exceeded, the 15 per cent it achieved in the parliamentary election last year. In the greater Provence region, the far right scored a disturbing 26.2 per cent, only a fraction less than the total "traditional" right vote. The Front's number two, Bruno Megret, called on Gaullist and UDF regional councillors to join the Front in an anti-Left alliance. Centre-right leaders swore, however, that they would not put forward candidates for president of any region where they had to rely on FN votes.

- John Lichfield, Paris