The Sterling Crisis: Poll finds most French say 'no'

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PARIS - Most voters in all but one of France's 22 regions intend to reject the Maastricht treaty in Sunday's referendum, according to a confidential poll taken this week, writes Julian Nundy.

Diplomatic sources said they had information that one of the mainstream opposition political parties commissioned a poll on a region-by-region basis. The party, which the sources said they could not name, received the results on Wednesday before the news was released that President Francois Mitterrand was suffering from prostate cancer. All the mainstream parties, particularly the Gaullist RPR, are split over ratification. Of France's regions, only the Rhone-Alpes region around Lyons and bordering on Switzerland had a majority of voters in favour of ratification.

The Languedoc-Roussillon region around Montpellier had 59 per cent of 'no' voters, the highest proportion in any department. That result conformed with an earlier, published poll. The sources had no precise percentages for other regions.

Despite such uncertainties, however, the trend of the opposition poll suggests that the French should reject ratification by a firm margin. 'Yes' campaigners have appealed to them not to undo 40 years of European construction, a tack rejected by 'no' campaigners as scaremongering.

Publication of opinion poll results halted inside France last Saturday. French electoral law forbids publication in the last week of campaigning but private polls can continue on condition that the results are not made available to the French public. Asked for reaction to the latest confidential poll, several political analysts said it conformed with other information they had. 'We are planning our programming for early next week on the assumption that Maastricht will be rejected,' said an editor of a French radio station.