CAMPAIGN NOTEBOOK

FRENCH PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION

With four days to go to the first round of the presidential election, the candidates have unveiled their deepest secrets. Voters know that front- runner Jacques Chirac sleeps a maximum of five hours a night, only drinks beer and detests opera, while his fellow Gaullist challenger, Edouard Balladur, hates people who are late, likes cherries in kirsch and knows how to make strawberry ice cream.

Among other candidates questioned by L'Express magazine, the Socialist Lionel Jospin says he splashes himself with toilet water from Guerlain and, like Chirac, plays the card game of belote. The National Front's Jean-Marie Le Pen keeps two Dobermans and several cats.

The Trotskyite Arlette Laguiller shares a liking for jazz with the Communist Robert Hue, and the right-winger Phillipe de Villiers an admiration for the German Socialist, Rosa Luxembourg, with the Green candidate, Dominique Voynet.

Some of the responses may have been prompted by public relations considerations - thus Mr Chirac now says he has just one historical hero, Cardinal Richelieu. A few months ago, he was identifying with d'Artagnan who clashed with the Cardinal's men. Never mind the inconsistency: for a man seeking to imbue himself with presidential gravitas, Richelieu is certainly a better role model than the Fourth Musketeer.

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Franois Mitterrand is an agnostic at the head of a lay state. But even the President cannot trump the Catholic Church. A book of memoirs in the form of a conversation between Mr Mitterrand and Nobel prize-winner, Elie Wiesel, published last week had been expected to zoom straight to the top of the best-seller lists as the 78-year-old president, who has prostate cancer, enters the last month of his term. But he has had to take second place - to Pope John-Paul's Evangile de la vie (Evangelium Vitae). Easter seems to move book buyers more than presidential thoughts.

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