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POLITICS

Sarkozy egged by Basque separatists

French President Nicolas Sarkozy took refuge in a bar Thursday after hundreds of Basque separatists and opposition Socialist party supporters mobbed him and some shouted insults and threw eggs.

Riot police deployed outside the Bar du Palais in Bayonne, in the southwestern Basque region, where Sarkozy was on the campaign trail to seek re-election in a presidential vote in April and May.

Some of the protestors jeered and booed and threw eggs at the bar while others shouted “Nicolas kampora!”, which in the Basque language means “Nicolas get out!”, and threw out tracts calling for more Basque autonomy.

The president was booed from the moment he got out of his car in the centre of the city and was followed by a jeering crowd all the way to the bar, where he had been scheduled to meet with local voters.

He remained in the bar for an hour while police held off the protestors, some of whom were brandishing the electoral programme of the Socialist candidate Francois Hollande.

Sarkozy, who was due in Brussels later Thursday for a European Council meeting, condemned the incident and put the blame partly on the party of his frontrunning rival.

“I am saddened to see Hollande’s Socialist militants associating with (Basque) separatists in violent protests to terrorise ordinary people who want just one thing: to meet and talk with me,” he said.

His campaign spokeswoman Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet accused the Socialists of organising “street protests” against the president.

But Manuel Valls, a senior member of Hollande’s campaign team, said that while his boss condemned any violence, no Socialist was involved in the Bayonne incident.

The Basque region straddles southwestern France and northern Spain. ETA, a separatist movement which called an end to its armed struggle last year, is blamed for 829 deaths during a four-decade campaign of shootings and bombings for an independent Basque homeland.

Hollande was Thursday holding his third major campaign rally in the eastern city of Lyon.

An opinion poll published Tuesday by IFOP said the Socialist would take 28.5 percent of the vote in the first round of the presidential election in late April, against 27 percent for President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen would come in third with 17 percent, it said.

POLITICS

Beautiful game sparks ugly row at French parliament

Sport and charity work are among few subjects warring politicians unite around, but not so in the new French parliament where a dispute has erupted over whether far-right MPs can play in the assembly's football team.

Beautiful game sparks ugly row at French parliament

Left-wing parties and the governing Renaissance group of President Emmanuel Macron announced Tuesday they would boycott a charity game if the far-right National Rally (RN) joins the parliament side.

Even though the RN has historically high representation with 89 seats in the assembly, “that doesn’t mean that we should help them in their desire to normalise themselves,” government spokesman Olivier Veran told CNews television.

Senior Renaissance MP Aurore Berge fretted about the team photo, telling fellow centrist lawmakers: “We are not in the same team. Neither far-right, nor far-left.”

The row underlines a decades-long dilemma for mainstream French politicians over how to deal with the far-right parties of Jean Marie Le Pen and his daughter Marine Le Pen since their emergence in the 1970s.

Some have tried to boycott them entirely, including former president Jacques Chirac, who refused to debate Jean-Marie in 2002 when they faced off in the final round of the presidential election.

She scored 41.4 percent in the second round of April’s presidential election and the party increased its number of seats 10-fold in June’s parliamentary vote.

“It says a lot about these people in reality,” Le Pen told RTL radio on Wednesday about the football row. “It’s hatred all the time,  everywhere, non-stop fighting.”

Veran, an enthusiastic player in previous parliament charity matches, acknowledged his own misgivings about the boycott.

“In saying that I won’t go to play, I am taking part in a phenomenon that serves to reinforce the notion that they (the far-right) are ostracised, that they are victims of the system,” he said.

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