Fracas on the Fringe

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PARIS: Talk about pounding the pavement. Angling for votes to add to his National Front party's surprising 15 percent returns in last Sunday's first round of elections, fiery right-winger Jean-Marie Le Pen found himself instead in a slugfest with some 30 hecklers in the crime-plagued Paris suburb of Mantes-La-Jolie. In the tumult, Le Pen wound up striking one youth who had shoved him and lunging after others in the jeering, egg-hurling crowd. One man who may wish he had been there, sticks and stones in hand, is endangered president Jacques Chirac. With its blame-the-immigrants economics, the Front has all but cornered France's far-right vote. But instead of allying with Chirac's conservatives, Le Pen has targeted them. Thursday he issued a list of mainly conservative candidates to defeat. Le Pen's contentiousness may cost Chirac his majority. His conservatives head into Sunday's runoff having netted just 29.9 percent of the vote, with the Socialists, bolstered by a broad leftist coalition, taking 40.6 percent. To keep their jobs, conservatives need not only to woo the Le Pen crowd but convince the 32 percent of eligible voters who sat out the first round to get to the ballot boxes. And leave the produce at home.