French Extremists Take Another City Hall

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PARIS: The far-right National Front party won a fourth city hall in southern France Sunday, raising concerns that its xenophobic message resonates with a growing number of recession-plagued French. Catherine Megret, who is married to the party's chief ideologue and second-in-command Bruno Megret, was elected mayor of the Marseilles suburb Vitrolles (pop. 39,000). She beat incumbent Socialist Jean-Jacques Anglade as a stand-in for her husband who had been disqualified in an earlier ballot. The NF already rules three other cities in southern France: Toulon, Orange and Marignane, another Marseilles suburb. Record unemployment and a large North-African immigrant population made all cities susceptible to the NF's anti-foreigner campaign. While mainstream politicians tried to downplay the most recent victory of Jean-Marie Le Pen as an aberration, TIME's Bruce Crumley calls the development worrying: "This concentration of power in the south provides the party with the base to launch a major offensive in the run up to next year's national elections." Scandal-ridden Socialists and conservatives risk being railroaded by the extremists, says Crumley: "NF candidates may be regarded by disgruntled voters as the only alternative to tainted mainstream politicians."