Le Pen endorses neither Sarkozy nor Hollande

Le Pen endorses neither Sarkozy nor Hollande

Le Pen endorses neither Sarkozy nor Hollande

Front National candidate Le Pen gestures after delivering a speech in Paris, during the party’s celebrations of Joan of Arc, marking this year her 600th birth anniversary. AFP photo

The leader of France’s resurgent, anti-immigrant far right, Marine Le Pen, refused to endorse either incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy or François Hollande, his socialist challenger, in the country’s presidential runoff and said yesterday she would cast a blank protest ballot.

Le Pen, who came in a strong third place in the first round of voting April 22, told her supporters at a large rally in Paris to “vote according to your conscience.” Le Pen won 6.5 million votes, totaling 17.9 percent. She assailed conservative Sarkozy, who has borrowed some of Le Pen’s rhetoric about immigrants and Muslims in his campaign, accusing him of impoverishing the French and giving up too much sovereignty to the European Union.

Le Pen threw cold water on Sarkozy’s attempts to woo her voters. “I will cast a blank ballot,” she said. “Each one of you will make your choice,” she said while insisting that she herself could not endorse Sarkozy or Socialist challenger Hollande.

Criticism of migrants

Observers have said Le Pen is distancing herself from Sarkozy in hopes of becoming the face of the French opposition under Socialist leadership.

Le Pen urged her supporters to focus on upcoming parliamentary elections, where she hopes her National Front party will win a presence in the National Assembly for the first time since 1986. Across town, Sarkozy held a campaign rally of his own. In a radio interview yesterday morning, Sarkozy was asked whether France had too many immigrants, and answered, “Yes.” “Our system of integration doesn’t work. Why? Because before we were able to integrate those who were received on our territory, others arrived. Having taken in too many people, we paralyzed our system of integration,” he said on RMC radio. “I will never argue for zero immigration, but the reality is that when you invite more people than you can handle, you no longer integrate them,” Sarkozy said. He also ruled out naming centrist François Bayrou as prime minister if re-elected.

Bayrou came in fifth in the first round and scored just 9.1 percent, but Sarkozy sorely needs as many of his supporters as possible to vote for him on May 6. Foreign Minister Alain Juppe had suggested before the first round that Bayrou could make an able prime minister, suggesting the conservatives were reaching out to him, but Sarkozy’s comments made a deal for the runoff appear unlikely. Meanwhile, masses of workers, leftists and union leaders around France marked Labor Day with marches and rallies, in a mood of optimism ahead of May 6’s runoff. Marchers protested austerity measures pushed by Sarkozy.

Compiled from AFP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.