A leftist candidate backed by an array of political
parties successfully staved off his far-right opponent in a mayoral
race Sunday that the National Front had hope would start its
Other parties, from communists to President Nicolas Sarkozy's
conservatives, rallied behind Daniel Duquenne whom voters
designated the new mayor of Henin-Beaumont, a former mining town in
northern France, in a runoff race.
The victor was sprayed with tear gas minutes after the results
were announced, a police officer said by telephone, confirming
reports on France-Info radio and the French TV station iTele.
Duquenne was not injured and the aggressor or aggressors fled, said
the officer who was not authorized to discuss the situation and
Police patrolled the streets of Henin-Beaumont, and planned to
maintain their presence throughout the night, the officer said.
Far-right National Front candidate Steeve Briois had won last
week's first-round vote with a 20-point margin, but parties fearing
a return of the far right banded together to block him in the final
round of the bi-election.
Duquenne's victory was slim but comfortable, with 52.4 percent
of the vote, compared to Briois' 47.6 percent.
The barrage of support for Duquenne recalled the successful bid
to block National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen in the 2002
presidential race against President Jacques Chirac.
However, the National Front was not about to go down easily.
Briois announced plans to ask the administrative court to cancel
the election results, saying Duquenne won "dishonestly." Briois
claimed that his opponent told various media outlets that the city
of 26,000 would lose state subsidies if the National Front won.
The Henin-Beaumont election was organized after Socialist Mayor
Gerard Dalongeville was jailed in early April on preliminary
charges of alleged extortion and favoritism. He was excluded from
the Socialist Party.
"I'm happy with what my political family did for this
election," a top aide to Sarkozy, Henri Guaino, said on French
television, referring to the Union for a Popular Movement, or UMP,
to band with Socialists and other rivals against the National
Front. "This is the triumph of democracy."
The anti-immigration party, once a feared political force in
France, never fully recovered from Le Pen's crushing defeat in the
runoff of the 2002 presidential race as parties on the left and
right joined to defeat him.
Losses in the legislative elections and the 2007 presidential
vote sent the anti-immigration party spiraling into debt, and it
was forced to sell its headquarters last year.
The far-right won four southern towns in 1995, but later lost
them. It looked to Henin-Beaumont, just south of Lille, as a new
chance to put its mark on France's political map.
Marine Le Pen, daughter of the National Front leader and his
likely successor, saw victory in the defeat with the relatively
close results. "We're not losers in this vote," she said on
French television. "The results are a starting point for the
National Front of tomorrow."