Riots and fear of Le Pen inspire rush to register

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Suburban riots and fear of the far right have inspired tens of thousands of people, especially the young, to register as voters for the French presidential election.

A study by Le Monde points to a dramatic increase in the number of new voters, especially in the age group 18 to 35. Official figures are not due until the end of this month, but, of the 61 areas studied in the survey, 33 have seen a rise in new voters of more than 50 per cent.

Angouléme, in the Charente region, has seen the biggest surge, with 3,756 new voters signing up during 2006, as opposed to 785 in the year before the last presidential election in 2002.

Angouléme town hall said the increase seemed mostly to be among students and "people in their forties who had stopped voting" but were horrified by the success of the far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen in the last election. The Lille mayor's office said 40 per cent of new voters were between 18 and 35.

In La Courneuve, one of the more troubled suburbs north of Paris, there was an increase of 277 per cent in new registrations last year.

It is difficult to say which candidate will benefit from the tens of thousands of new voters across the country. But the centre-right candidate, Nicolas Sarkozy, is detested in the suburbs of Paris that were at the centre of anti-government riots in autumn 2005.