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Le Pen says NF a major force after French vote
    By Irwin Arieff
    PARIS, April 25 (Reuter) - Extreme rightwinger Jean-Marie Le
 Pen's National Front claimed on Tuesday its strong first-round
 presidential vote had proved it was a force that conservative
 Jacques Chirac must reckon with if he is to win the election.
    ``There is now in our country a fourth political family,
 just as important as the Socialists or the (Gaullist) Rally for
 the Republic or the (centrist) Union for French Democracy,''
 said National Front deputy head Bruno Megret.
    The political establishment had been ``badly weakened'' by
 Le Pen's 15 percent showing in Sunday's ballot and must now
 recognise the National Front as ``a great political force that
 is representative, legitimate and deeply rooted'' or suffer
 additional damage, Megret told a news conference.
    Le Pen finished fourth in Sunday's ballot behind Socialist
 Lionel Jospin, Chirac and Gaullist Prime Minister Edouard
 Balladur. He topped the polls in Alsace and on the Riviera.
    His record showing prompted hints from Le Pen that Chirac
 would have to make a goodwill gesture to win the support of his
 voters in the May 7 run-off against Jospin.
    Le Pen will recommend next Monday who his supporters should
 back in the run-off, but Megret hinted that only Gaullist
 Chirac, a longtime foe of the National Front, was in the running
 for the endorsement.
    Jospin's programme would not contribute to the National
 Front's goals while Chirac, as a conservative, could conceivably
 help. But he would first have to put behind him the ``leftist
 bent'' displayed during the first-round campaign, Megret said.
    ``We may choose to question Chirac about his slogan ``France
 for all.' France for whom? Perhaps he will explain,'' said
 Megret, whose party is fervently anti-immigration as well as
 anti-Left.
    Both Chirac and Jospin have flatly ruled out making a deal
 with Le Pen in return for his endorsement but have both reached
 out to Le Pen voters with kind words and appeals for support.
    ``Not a blink of the eye,'' National Assembly speaker
 Philippe Seguin, a Chirac ally, said on RTL radio when asked
 whether the Chirac camp was prepared to make a gesture of
 recognition towards Le Pen.
    However, hardline Interior Minister Charles Pasqua, a former
 Chirac ally who sided with Balladur in the current campaign,
 made a naked pitch for the National Front vote on Monday, urging
 Chirac to propose partial proportional representation for
 parliamentary elections.
    The measure is eagerly sought by Le Pen because it would
 greatly enhance his party's role in national political life
 where it has little power today. The National Front has no seat
 in the National Assembly.
    Chirac has not yet stated a position on proportional
 representation.
    Both the Chirac and Jospin campaigns have characterised the
 Le Pen vote as a sign of protest against the major parties.
    But Megret insisted the National Front was not simply a
 short-lived phenomenon but a significant political force that
 would grow and prosper.
    He said the party would now focus on June municipal
 elections, concentrating on 81 cities where Le Pen had
 particularly strong support last Sunday.
 

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