Row sours Beregovoy ceremony

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The Independent Online
FRANCOIS MITTERRAND paid tribute yesterday to Pierre Beregovoy on the anniversary of the former prime minister's suicide but the choice of one companion at the ceremony - Bernard Tapie - threatened to overshadow the commemoration.

Beregovoy shot himself with the pistol of a bodyguard on 1 May last year, little more than a month after the Socialists were routed in parliamentary elections. Beregovoy had been prime minister for just under a year until the defeat. Friends said he had been despondent over the debacle and an investigation into a loan he had received to buy an apartment.

Before delivering a speech in which he said 'France misses Pierre Beregovoy', the President visited his grave in the town of Nevers, where Beregovoy was mayor. Mr Mitterrand walked alone into the cemetery after it had been reported that he would be accompanied by Mr Tapie, the former minister for towns.

Mr Tapie was stripped of his post of president of Olympique de Marseille (OM) football team by the French football federation on 22 April as the club was relegated to the second division for allegedly bribing players of a rival side last May. Reports that he was to have a place alongside Mr Mitterrand at the Beregovoy ceremony had prompted negative commentaries.

Mr Tapie, heading the small Leftwing Radicals Movement ticket for next month's European Parliament election, is increasingly seen as having the President's backing. Mr Tapie is facing charges of financial mismanagement in his business affairs and allegations of paying OM players under the table, but he has a tough-talking style which appeals especially to young voters.

Michel Rocard, the Socialist Party first secretary and a long-time rival of Mr Mitterrand, is the leading candidate on the left to succeed Mr Mitterrand at the end of his term in a year's time. Some of the President's detractors suspect Mr Mitterrand of promoting Mr Tapie to undermine Mr Rocard.

The popular France-Soir newspaper described Mr Mitterrand's plans to take Mr Tapie with him to Nevers as the 'consecration of Bernard Tapie to the detriment of Michel Rocard', adding to a sense of malaise on the French left.

In the event, Mr Tapie was just one of several personalities who attended the ceremony for Beregovoy. Others included Mr Rocard and all the other former Socialist prime ministers who have served under Mr Mitterrand since he was first elected President in 1981, except Edith Cresson, Beregovoy's immediate predecessor.

Mr Tapie's continuing popularity despite the scandals which surround him have prompted comparisons in the French media with Italy's Silvio Berlusconi. A commentator on Europe 1 radio station yesterday said Mr Mitterrand could be trying to use Mr Tapie as 'a torpedo' against Mr Rocard.

Mr Tapie himself, speaking at a political meeting on Saturday, said he received no instructions or advice from the President.