Rocard forces the pace

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PARIS (Reuter) - The French presidential contender Michel Rocard proposed yesterday that the ruling Socialist Party should bring forward its next congress to June to discuss his plan for a new centre-left movement.

Forcing the pace after his call for a political 'big bang' after next month's parliamentary elections, in which the conservative opposition is set to trounce the Socialists, Mr Rocard said his party must change its habits.

'This campaign was drowning in boredom with arrogance on one side and despair on the other. It was the right time . . . to start a rebirth,' he said in a televised interview. 'As early as April, immediately after the elections, the list of things to be done will have to be drawn up and we need a congress rapidly, I think in June,' he said. The next party congress is not due until the end of the year.

Mr Rocard declared that he was a candidate for the next French presidential election, due in 1995. The Left's election plan was decided, he said, and he was a candidate to succeed Francois Mitterrand as head of state. Last week he proposed a new movement grouping ecologists, centrists, Socialists and reformed Communists. Yesterday he shrugged off President Mitterrand's cool reaction to his call, saying it was normal for the head of state to maintain continuity while he, Mr Rocard, worked for renewal.

Mr Rocard said he was very pleased with the response to his bombshell. Asked if he advocated dissolving the Socialist Party into the proposed new movement, he said: 'There are some 100,000 Socialist members today. One can't just write that great reserve off in the profit-and-loss column.'

An opinion poll screened during the television interview showed 41 per cent of the electorate wanted the Socialist Party to melt into a new movement, while 24 per cent opposed the idea.