France's Chirac begins new term

Friday, May 17, 2002

PARIS -- President Jacques Chirac officially began his second term in office Thursday in a somber ceremony, calling his election victory over ultra-rightist Jean-Marie Le Pen a French triumph over extremism.

In contrast to the flood of revelers that filled the streets following his runoff win over Jean-Marie Le Pen, Thursday's inauguration at the presidential palace was a low-key affair before his inner circle. The main pageantry came at the end when cannons fired off a 21-gun salute a few miles away.

In a brief inauguration speech, Chirac urged national unity after a divisive campaign during which hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to protest the candidacy of Le Pen.

Chirac, 69, was re-elected in a landslide, crushing Le Pen by winning 82 percent of the vote. But in the first round on April 21, Le Pen knocked socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin out of the race -- stunning the French.

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