Mitterrand 'would go' if too ill to rule

Click to follow
PRESIDENT Francois Mitterrand said yesterday that he would leave office before his term ended next May, if he felt that illness prevented him from handling 'my destiny and that of the state'. But he added that his disease had not interfered with his work and he had not thought of resigning.

In a television interview, Mr Mitterrand, who is suffering from prostate cancer, said 'I am big enough to take it (the decision)'. The President will be 78 next month. Although he did not explicitly describe the treatment he was receiving, his account seemed to confirm that he had been receiving chemotherapy throughout the summer. Mr Mitterrand's second seven-year term has less than eight months to run. But worries about his health have prompted speculation that he might step down early.

During the 90-minute interview, in which the President appeared strong, although his voice was hoarse, he discussed his work in the Second World War under the collaborationist Vichy regime of Marshal Philippe Petain and his post-war contacts with Rene Bousquet, the Vichy police chief who ordered the first mass deportation of Jews from Paris.

The interview, in which Mr Mitterrand was questioned by Jean-Pierre Elkabbach, the chairman of the France Television state television authority, was remarkable in that, both by discussing his health and his political past, the President was taking the initiative in defining his own role as his political life nears its close.

Mr Mitterrand's war-time record was a typical mixture of apparent collaboration - often used as a cover by members of the Resistance - combined with an undeniable time in the Resistance. It has come under scrutiny because of a book published this month about his life as a young man which relies on documents provided by the President. Most of the detail in the book, by Pierre Pean, had been published elsewhere. But the new version has aroused a storm in Mr Mitterrand's Socialist Party.

Mr Mitterrand said that since a second operation for cancer in less than two years on 18 July, he had undergone the 'second series' of his treatment. Each phase lasts 21 days and he is expected to undergo at a least three phases, he said. This is compatible with a course of chemotherapy.

Talking of his health since the July operation, Mr Mitterrand said 'the illness was not reduced'. He added that of the 'tens of thousands' of people suffering from cancer in France, he was 'not among those most badly affected'.

Mr Mitterrand said he had met Bousquet, who was shot dead at his Paris home in June of last year, in the 1950s. Bousquet had been tried for collaboration but had seen his civic rights and decorations restored, he said. It was not until the late 1970s that Bousquet's direct responsibility for the deportation of 11,884 Jews from Paris in the infamous Vel d'Hiv round- up of July 1942 was established.

Discussing his time in the Resistance, he told his interviewer: 'I would like to have seen you there.' Mr Elkabbach, who is a Jew, replied: 'I might not have had the option.'