Bitter battle looms on Riviera

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The Independent Online
THE GAULLIST Mayor of Nice won a parliamentary by-election against stiff competition from the far-right National Front, preparing the way for what promises to be a bitter battle for control of

the city in municipal elections next year.

Jean-Paul Barety, appointed mayor in November, took 56.48 per cent of the vote in the second and final round of voting on Sunday for Nice's second constituency against 43.52 per cent for Jacques Peyrat, of the National Front. In the first round of voting on 6 March, Mr Barety had a lead of 34 votes over Mr Peyrat, a lawyer. There were fears that, given a between-rounds surge in the number of votes for the National Front in the same constituency in general elections last year, this could translate into victory for the anti-immigration party.

However, a 'republican front' including the Socialists, Com munists and ecologists campaigned for Mr Barety in the week between the two rounds to stop the National Front.

The second constituency in Nice is the one which Jacques Medecin, the fugitive ex-mayor

of the city who ran it for 24 years, held in the National Assembly.

A by-election was called because the election of the Gaullist Christian Estrosi last March was annulled because of alleged campaign irregularities.

The affairs of Nice have been dogged by the Medecin legacy. Mr Medecin, whose extradition from Uruguay, where he took refuge in 1990, was recommended by a judge last month, fled France to avoid facing tax-evasion charges. After an appeals procedure, a decision on whether to send him back to France is expected in late May or early June.

Mr Medecin was first succeeded by Honore Bailet, his first deputy. Mr Bailet stepped down in November because of illness and after his wife and stepson were charged in criminal cases. Mr Barety, relatively unknown in the city until he was elected mayor by fellow city councillors, has gained a reputation for integrity and hard work in the short time he has been in the job.

Although Mr Barety is expected to try to retake the town hall in municipal elections next year, the Paris conservative political establishment is believed to favour Jean Icart, a local businessman and son of a former minister, who has promised to find a new team, untainted by the corruption of the past.

The likely Barety-Icart battle could offer the National Front, said to be popular because it, too, had no part in the Medecin years, an opportunity to profit from the divisions of the conservative right and make a determined effort to take Nice.