France vote: Le Pen says Sarkozy has no chance

NANTERRE, France - French far-right candidate Marine Le Pen told AFP that President Nicolas Sarkozy has betrayed the trust of French voters and has no chance of being re-elected.

Socialist challenger Francois Hollande is favourite to win the two-round presidential contest, but Le Pen has concentrated her attacks on the incumbent, hoping to make inroads into his right-wing base.

Defeat for Sarkozy's UMP in the April 22 and May 6 presidential polls and in June's legislative election could leave the centre-right in disarray, and give Le Pen's far-right National Front room to manoeuvre.

"I think Nicolas Sarkozy has no chance of being re-elected, because he has betrayed the French to a historic degree and, in particular, because he has the cynicism not to admit this," she told AFP in an interview.

"He's attempting the same confidence trick and playing the French for fools," she said, adding that if she does not qualify for the second round run-off she would not advise her supporters which way to vote.

"I remain confident that there's every chance that I'll be in the second round," she said, despite opinion polls suggesting she will receive between 13 and 17 percent and come in third or fourth on April 22.

"If that's not the case, how could I call for anyone to vote for either of two candidates who are part of the exactly the same system?" she said of the centre-left and centre-right frontrunners.

"I'm not fighting for a ministry, nor for access to safe seats in the parliamentary vote. I'm fighting for my ideas," she said.

Le Pen, a 43-year-old lawyer and member of the European Parliament, took over her father Jean-Marie Le Pen's fair-right anti-immigrant National Front in January last year, and set about trying to broaden its appeal.

She dropped the sometimes casually racist and anti-Semitic smears that saw her father convicted more than once of hate speech, but stuck close to his broader agenda of halting immigration and opposing globalisation.

In her latest campaign, she has hammered the financial markets that all French candidates blame for the eurozone debt crisis and proposed a starkly protectionist economic policy including leaving the euro to return to the franc.

"Within around six months I want to turn to other European leaders to organise referendums on this question in all the countries that allow referendums in their constitutions, if possible on the same day," she said.

"This currency is not viable, as the situation in Spain shows," she said, referring to the debt crisis that has seen Spain and other Mediterranean countries struggle to refinance their deficit spending.

She will organise another referendum to modify the French constitution in order to specifically bar the state from recognising any minority community and to allow discrimination in favour of citizens in social policy.

"And I'd renegotiate a certain number of European treaties to allow economic protectionism at our own national borders," she added, describing a move that would destroy the single market at the heart of EU economic strategy.

Le Pen has no real chance of winning the presidency - her father made a surprise breakthrough to the second round in 2002, but was roundly defeated when voters from right and left rallied to Jacques Chirac in disgust.

But she hopes to establish the National Front as a plausible alternative for French voters fearful of the economic effects of globalisation and open borders, or suspicious of the aloof French political elite.

But much of her thunder this year has been stolen by another firebrand orator, the Communist-backed hard-leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon, whose campaign rallies dwarf Le Pen's and who threatens to push her into fourth place.

Melenchon and Le Pen could not be further apart on social issues and immigration. He plans to permit gay marriage and to give residence papers to tens of thousands of undocumented migrants that she would simply expel.

But both tap into a similar vein of discontent with free trade and financial capitalism, and a sense that France has lost its way.

Melenchon's fierce attacks on Le Pen have been a major theme of his campaign, but she dismisses him as a rival and gives no credit to recent opinion polls that show him overtaking her.

"He has been wildly over-estimated," she said. "His posturing pleases the elite, the armchair revolutionaries. Those who get a little frisson and say 'Ah, it's the revolution', before heading off to vote Hollande."

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