Eta links may force Green out of race for French presidency

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The Independent Online

The Green candidate in next year's French presidential election was under pressure to stand down yesterday after admitting links with terrorist groups in Corsica and Spain.

Alain Lipietz – already a controversial and unpopular choice – was refusing to budge but calls were growing within the French Green movement for a new candidate to be found, seven months before the first round of the presidential election. Mr Lipietz had already split "Les Verts" last month by pushing for an amnesty for all "political" crimes in Corsica, including murder.

Many Greens could see little connection between such an extreme political position and their own ecological agenda, which has been gradually gaining ground in France. The official candidate's position was further undermined when Le Monde revealed he helped to draw up the economic policies of the Corsican separatist movement, the FLNC, when it was engaged in an "armed struggle" against the "colonial" French state in the early 1990s.

Yesterday another French newspaper, Journal du Dimanche, reported that Mr Lipietz had addressed meetings of a political front for the Basque terrorist group, Eta. Mr Lipietz admitted the contacts but shrugged them off as legitimate political activities, unconnected to violence or terrorism. But opponents among the French Greens are pushing for his removal as their candidate.

Maryse Arditi, a Green spokeswoman, said yesterday: "We need a consensual candidate, capable of appealing to every member of the Greens. That is no longer true of Alain."

Mr Lipietz was chosen by party delegates in June, in preference to the media favourite, Noel Mamère. The party leader and Environment Minister, Dominique Voynet, had announced that she wanted to quit the government and stand aside in next year's election to concentrate on party affairs and her family.

If Mr Lipietz is forced out, she will come under intense pressure to change her mind and replace him. Mr Mamère – another possible choice and one of Mr Lipietz's most vociferous critics in recent days – has said that he will not stand for the party nomination a second time.

A change of Green candidate would come as a relief to Lionel Jospin, the Prime Minister, who needs the "official" Green party to harvest ecological votes that will switch to him in the second round of the election in early May. In recent French elections the Greens, under Ms Voynet's leadership, have increased their support to double figures, threatening to replace the Communists as the "second party" of the left in France.

Since Mr Lipietz was chosen as candidate, though, the Green score in opinion polls has floundered, with many "eco-votes" threatening to turn instead to centre-right and dissident Green candidates.