JEAN MARIE LE PEN JACQUES CHIRAC

France"s 40 million voter yesterday unveiled thé full and shocking extent du their politics disenchantment, reportedly sending the veteran far-right leader Jean-Marie les Pen through à the seconde round ns presidential elections to face à face the outgoing Jacques Chirac. Tens de thousands ns people take it to the streets ns Paris in voluntary protest last night.

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In a result that plunged thé country"s political course into turmoil, typically reliable leave polls put Mr le Pen"s but at in between 17% et 17.9% versus Jacques Chirac"s 19.8% venir 20%. Mr Chirac"s presumed rival in the pouvez 5 runoff, his Socialist composants minister Lionel Jospin, polled between 16% et 16.5%.

"Ashamed, ashamed to be French" review the bannière held aloft par one man rollerblading à join thé demonstrators at Bastille et République. "This is worse than your foulest dreams," claimed Nicholas, 26. "We"ll ont to come together et fight now. Le Pen will certainly not pass."

Socialists et conservatives alike described thé result as "cataclysmic", "dramatic", "shameful", a "disgrace to french democracy" et "an outrage". Mr Jospin announced that hey would retire from political life immediately after the pouvez 5 runoff.

"I obviously assume responsibility à la this failure et I will certainly draw auto conclusions," grandfather Jospin said in a choked voice, calling thé results a "thunderbolt". Grandfather Chirac, à la whom re-election is assured, referred to as on all French citizens to pull together to defeat the far-right leader.

"I call on tous French men and women venir gather up à defend human rights," grandfather Chirac said. "Today, quel is at stake is our national unity, thé values ns the republic, auto very idea the we ont of mankind, his rights et his dignity. It is auto idea we oui of France, of its role et its place in Europe and the world."

The result does not mean there is any serious risk of Mr ns Pen ending up being president du the republic. A snap opinion poll last night showed Mr Chirac would certainly win auto runoff v 78% du the vote against 22% pour Mr ns Pen.

Mr Jospin has headed a ligue government of socialists, greens and communists pour the past five years in année uneasy power-sharing prêt with auto conservative mr Chirac. Polls had predicted parce que le months, si not years, that the two men"s progression to the seconde round would certainly be automatic - part de the reason parce que le voters" disenchantment.

The departure polls, which have proved specific in tous previous french elections, proved that much more voters continued to be at patrie than ever avant in a presidential election, putting auto abstention rate at 28%.

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Mr les Pen, 73, a se réconcilier paratrooper who has challenged every election à la head ns state since 1974, said auto provisional an outcome was "a great la vitesse of lucidity de the français people" and represented "first et foremost your rejection ns those who ont governed them haricot de soja inefficiently".

The founder du the anti-immigrant, law-and-order national Front, best known for his comment that thé Nazi gas chambers were "a detail ns history", added: "There is a dramatic state of auditeur insecurity in ours country, and those responsible parce que le it, thé people have understood, space Jospin et Chirac."

The tons round an outcome will be shown this morning par the interior ministry.

A enregistrer 16 candidates qualified à la the first round, including three from thé hard left and two indigenous the frais right, reflecting french voters" disaffection with thé mainstream socialist and Gaullist activities that have governed them pour 40 years.

Many socialists, disillusioned with what they see oui the centrist drift du Mr Jospin"s party, plumped à la candidates such as Arlette Laguiller, année unreconstructed Trotskyite whose appel téléphonique for thé overthrow ns parliamentary democracy earned her 6.3% of the vote.

On the right, voters appeared swayed more par Mr Chirac"s determination to make crime and insecurity the central issue de his campaign. Auto president seized nous what polls showed was thé electorate"s prime concern and was helped by several bloody incident in auto runup to thé vote, including the abattue of eight city councillors in Nanterre.

Mr ns Pen, année accomplished self-publicist who supports the death penalty et has constantly blamed immigrants pour high unemployment and urban violence, has actually never scored greater than 15% in previous presidential polls.

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He has radically toned under his rhetoric pour this campaign marqué still insists that "the main raison of la criminalité is linked very directly venir mass immigration". He also accused grandfather Chirac"s RPR party of putting pressure on mayors and other elected officials not venir give him the 500 signatures candidates have to collect venir stand for president, and accused the social ists ns trying to harm him by backing the release of a cinématicien about année evil anti-immigrant demagogue.

Leading socialists signalled that they would certainly urge your supporters to back grandfather Chirac in the seconde round runoff. "We"ll aller what we have to aller because conditions météorologiques are republicans and democrats," said nouveau Hollande, thé socialist intérieur secretary. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, socialist finance minister and close Jospin ally, said: "Le Pen"s score, for the honour of France, have to be as low as possible."