Catholic bishop denounces Le Pen

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The Independent Online

The French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen was branded "anti-Christian" by a prominent Catholic bishop yesterday as efforts intensified to turn the second round of the presidential election into a sweeping referendum against "Lepenism".

The comments by Monsigneur Olivier de Berranger, bishop of Saint-Denis, will infuriate Mr Le Pen, who claims to be a devout Christian, guided and assisted by God. The bishop said no "clear-minded Catholic" should consider voting fo Mr Le Pen, who was "the heir to a totalitarian and anti-Christian" tradition.

President Jacques Chirac attempted to isolate Mr Le Pen further by refusing to take part in a traditional televised debate between the two candidates remaining. Mr Chirac announced that "no debate was possible" with "intolerance and hatred".

Another of the most powerful and supposedly apolitical institutions of French life, the main farmers' union also, joined in the chorus of condemnation of Mr Le Pen. The president of the FNSEA, Jean-Michel Lemétayer said the National Front leader's pledge to take France out of the European Union would be disastrous for farmers and disastrous for the French economy.

Mr Le Pen has been condemned in recent days from almost every corner of French life from the Catholic church to two of the many tribes of Trotskyists, from employers organisations to trade unions. The National Front attempted to turn the wave of disapproval to its advantage, suggesting it proved Mr Le Pen was a candidate of "the real people".

Bruno Gollnisch, his de facto number two, spoke of a "grotesque and fantastic coalition" against Mr Le Pen, proving he was the man who would free the French from the domination of "the establishment".

Opinion polls suggest Mr Chirac will defeat Mr Le Pen heavily in the second round of the presidential election on Sunday.