Toulon win gives National Front first large city

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The Independent Online


The south-east of France took a sharp turn to the right yesterday in the second round of municipal elections, with the naval port of Toulon becoming the first large city to come under the control of the National Front. A former official of the National Front won the Riviera city of Nice, and Marseilles, France's third city, passed to the mainstream right for the first time.

The National Front also won the southern city of Orange, and Marignane, near Marseilles, while the mainstream right took Avignon from the Socialists. Wherever the extreme right won, its victory was slender, but the symbolic value was great.

Outside the south-east, however, the National Front failed to capitalise on its strong showing in the first round and the Socialists caused several surprises.

In Paris, they won six districts from the right, destroying the clean sweep of 20 districts won by Jacques Chirac when he retained the post of mayor six years ago. The new mayor, Jean Tiberi, has been damaged by allegations of corruption and favouritism in the allocation of council housing. The new interior minister, Jean-Louis Debre, was one notable victim.

In the central city of Clermont Ferrand, former French president, Valery Giscard d'Estaing, failed in his bid to end his career as mayor of a major French city. He narrowly lost the contest to the incumbent Socialist, Roger Quilliot. The Socialists, led by former prime minister, Pierre Mauroy, also retained France's fourth city, Lille.

While results were generally mixed, there was always a local logic behind the result. The Socialists often profited from the arrival of a right-wing candidate deemed to have been "parachuted" in to a safe seat or from the division of the right where the National Front was strong.

The whiff of corruption also seemed to prove a greater liability to candidates in the second round than in the first. The Communists, whose vote declined overall compared with six years ago, especially in the Paris suburbs, lost the city of Le Havre to the candidate of the mainstream right. But they gained the southern city of Nimes, where the former mayor from the centre-right UDF was implicated in scandal. The right also lost Grenoble, probably for similar reasons.

The main news of the night, however, was the contrasting fate of National Front candidates. They lost both the medium sized cities - Dreux to the west of Paris and Vitrolles to the north of Marseilles - where they had topped the poll in the first round. They were also beaten in Noyon, where they had obtained the highest score nationally - more than 44 per cent - in the first round. Their results were also sharply down in Alsace, where they had performed strongly in the presidential election.

In all these areas, the opposition has fought back strongly. In Vitrolles the National Front candidate, Bruno Megret, said he was appealing against the result, claiming his opponents had distributed intimidating leaflets and mobilised schoolchildren against the Front.

Mr Chirac's government was reticent in the face of their losses in Paris and National Front gains in the south. One of the few ministers to voice an opinion, Francois d'Aubert, the budget minister, said it was clear that the south had a particular problem, linked to the "abandonment in some places of public morality".