Jacques' new answer to Aids: VAT-free French letters

CAMPAIGN NOTEBOOK

Aids has made an appearance in the presidential election campaign. Candidates have been visiting Aids clinics. They all agree: something needs to be done. According to official figures, which may be an understatement, 110,000to 120,000 people in France are HIV positive. Of the 32,722 people who have developed full-blown Aids, 19,085 have died.

Now Jacques Chirac, the front-runner never at a loss for a quick policy fix, has come up with an answer: he would abolish value-added tax on contraceptives. Whether this would do the trick is open to question. Recent surveys on the use of contraceptives by young people have produced wildly contradictory findings. One said 75 per cent of people aged 15-18 had used contraceptives for their first sexual experience, but the newspaper Libration reported this week that 80 per cent of those aged 16-25 did not use any protection. In the moment of passion, would a Chirac VAT price cut make them think again?

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As well as his sharp political skills, Jacques Chirac, the front-runner in the French presidential election, appears to be a dab hand when it comes to property. In an evident attempt to embarrass the Gaullist Mayor of Paris, leaks to the whistle-blowing weekly, the Canard Enchain have highlighted the way Mr Chirac has arranged his accommodation in the capital to his maximum advantage.

Last week the Canard revealed that - apart from his huge official City Hall apartment - Mr Chirac rented a highly desirable residence on the Rue du Bac in the smart seventh arrondissement for an unusually low rent. The property, as it happens, is owned by a company which runs council housing for the city of Paris.

Yesterday, the Canard reported that Mr Chirac also owned a flat in the Rue de Seine, in the neighbouring sixth arrondissement, which he let out for a rent that - calculated by the square metre - is more than double what he pays to the friendly property company for the Rue du Bac. The newspaper calculated that, whereas the firm which rents Mr Chirac one of his residences makes a return of just 1.1 per cent on the purchase price, the Mayor is clocking up 8.5 per cent on the flat heowns and lets out.

Nothing illegal is alleged, and Mr Chirac says it is up to his landlords what they charge him. But the revelations are clearly part of an increasingly dirty side to the presidential battle in the run-up to the first round of voting on 23 April.

Mr Chirac has promised not to interfere in media or legal investigations of political scandal ifelected. Other French politicians are less reticent about protecting their peers.

A senate committee has just proposed banning any media reporting of such cases before they come to court. At the same time, the appeals court has upheld a guilty verdictagainst the Canard Enchain. The paper had been convicted of receiving stolen goods. The goods in question were the tax returns of the head of the Citron-Peugeot car firm, Jacques Calvet.

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French traffic wardens can be excused for not showing their usual zeal over the next month. One of the first acts of a new president is traditionally to declare an amnesty on petty legal infractions, including parking fines. So there is no incentive for motorists to worry about where they put their cars up to the second round of the presidential election on 7 May.

After the last presidential poll, in 1988, the police in the typical French city of Limoges found that out of 30,500 outstanding road offences, 12,600 were covered by the amnesty. This year they have received a tide of objections by motorists to fixed penalties for parking and other minor offences - all with one aim in view: to delay a payment date until after the president is elected.

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