The Sterling Crisis: Le Pen accuses Mitterrand of seeking sympathy: Jibe over President's illness
As could have been expected, its inspiration came from Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, who accused Mr Mitterrand of timing his prostate operation last week - during which cancerous tissue was found - to win sympathy before Sunday's referendum.
Making the statement in a televised debate on Wednesday night, Mr Le Pen earned the epithets 'little bastard' and 'fascist' from the audience of politicians. Elisabeth Guigou, the European Affairs Minister, was among several who walked out of the studio of the TF1 television channel.
Bernard Kouchner, the Health and Humanitarian Action Minister, remained, saying he believed it was more important to combat Mr Le Pen's arguments. Simone Veil, a former health minister who was taken to a Nazi concentration camp during the Second World War, described Mr Le Pen's words as 'vile'. Mr Le Pen has been increasingly rabid in his recent public pronouncements.
Across the political spectrum, other politicians have been quick to express their sympathy for the President. Pierre Beregovoy, the Prime Minister, said that Mr Mitterrand had known for some time that he would need a prostate operation and had planned to delay it until after the referendum but acute discomfort on 10 September had prompted his doctors to bring it forward.
A medical bulletin said the cancer, announced on Wednesday as Mr Mitterrand left hospital, was not at an advanced stage, could be easily treated with hormones and would not affect the President's ability to carry out his functions.
The ruling Socialist Party held its last big rally - in favour of ratification - on Wednesday in the Paris suburb of Creteil. The main speakers were Mr Beregovoy, Laurent Fabius, the party's first secretary, and Michel Rocard, who is expected to be the next Socialist presidential candidate.
Of the three, who are all polished speakers, only Mr Rocard seemed to be on top form. He blamed public fears of what Maastricht would bring on politicians' behaviour in the past.
When explaining concessions they had made in EC talks, he said, ministers would often say 'Brussels made us do it' instead of explaining that they were the result of a necessary compromise. He described such behaviour as 'a little daily cowardice'.
Since the three speakers have access to the secret public-opinion soundings being carried out by the French police in the closing days of the campaign, the rather lacklustre performances of Mr Beregovoy and Mr Fabius could be an indication that the polls are tending towards a 'no' vote. In any case, each speaker stressed that the result would be close.
The police polls are carried out by the French equivalent of the Special Branch, to monitor trends in French public opinion for the government. They have a reputation for being detailed and accurate.
French electoral law prohibits the publication of poll results in the last week of the campaign.
The crisis in the European Monetary System has jostled with news of the Mitterrand illness for space in the French press.
The British interest-rate saga is not fully understood, since French mortgages carry fixed rates.
With the lira, the peseta and the pound all suffering from the uncertainty surrounding the French Maastricht vote, the franc has held up. 'It is not flourishing but it is not suffering either,' one banker said. 'The irony is that, whatever happens on Sunday, the franc is unlikely to devalue.'
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