Lang joins `trench war' challenge for Presidency

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Jack Lang, France's charismatic former culture minister, last night threw his hat into the ring as a possible Socialist candidate in the country's presidential election.

Mr Lang has joined what the newspaper Liberation yesterday called "the trench warfare", the increasingly bitter battle over who should represent the Socialists in the election. So far there are two and a half names in contention: Mr Lang; Lionel Jospin, the former education minister; and Henri Emmanuelli, the party's First Secretary, who has yet to declare but is hovering in the background.

There is no realistic hope that any of these men can extend Francois Mitterrand's 14-year Socialist hold on the presidency. What is at issue is who can unite the non-Communist left sufficiently to prevent a total disaster in the spring elections.

Present opinion polls show that all available candidates would fail to make it into the second round of voting. Mr Jospin has been attacked by Mr Emmanuelli on the grounds that he could not deliver the vote of the Radical Party of Bernard Tapie, the disgraced former soccer boss.

Jean-Francois Hory, president of the radicals, has said that he prefers Mr Lang to Mr Jospin. Mr Hory has even discussed, in a letter he sent to Mr Emmanuelli, an institutional link between the two parties that would amount to merger. Mr Lang, a colourful media-friendly if somewhat insubstantial figure, has a reasonably good showing in the polls at the moment.

Mr Lang, 55, a close associate of President Mitterrand, told a television interviewer, in charcteristically florid style: "I am prepared to run for President of the Republic unless someone else embodies better than I do our ideals of unity and enthusiasm, a personality who can move mountains...and let those who believe in us cease despairing.".

Today Edouard Balladur, the centre-right Prime Minister, is expected to announce his candidacy. All of the polls show Mr Balladur winning the election hands down for his Gaullist RPR party.

Mr Balladur has brought forward his declaration by a day, apparently because the announcement has been widely predicted.

Things may not be so easy for him from now on. He has few campaign plans at the moment and will be a sitting target for other candidates. Against this must be set his popularity and the vacuum in the Socialist party that has been filled by internal disputes after their 1993 defeat in legislative elections. "Stop the massacres" was the plaintive cry of Michel Rocard, thought to be the socialists' best hope until he decided not to run last year.