The French presidential campaign drew to a close Friday with the country euphoric after the freeing of French captives in Lebanon and New Caledonia but party loyalists arguing over the timing of the releases.
Socialist President Francois Mitterrand, favored to win a second seven-year term in Sunday's runoff, capped his electioneering with a final rally in the southern city of Toulouse. Campaigning is prohibited Saturday.Conservative Premier Jacques Chirac toured the south, basking in the release Wednesday of Marcel Fontaine, 45, Marcel Carton, 62, and Jean-Paul Kauffmann, 44, from Beirut and in the freeing Thursday of 23 French lawmen held by Melanesian separatists in New Caledonia.
The release from exile Friday of a French spy convicted in the 1985 sinking of the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior topped the recent dose of good news for Chirac.
It wasn't possible to say how the hostage releases would affect Chirac's chances in Sunday's runoff, because polls are forbidden in the final week of the campaign. Most political analysts felt any benefits would be insufficient to overcome the wide lead held by Mitterrand in the final opinion surveys last week.
The last polls indicated Mitterrand was favored by 53 percent to 57 percent, compared to Chirac's 43 percent to 47 percent rating. They advanced to the runoff by being the top two vote-getters in the first round of voting April 24.
In that vote, Mitterrand won 34.1 percent of the vote and Chirac won 19.9 percent.
Attempts to keep partisan presidential politics out of the joy and relief felt by everyone lasted less than a day.
Lionel Jospin, first secretary of the Socialist Party, claimed Chirac pushed for the releases to bolster his own campaign. "Jacques Chirac and his team is working public opinion with force in a formidable attempt to manipulate the end of the campaign," he said Friday.
But Jacques Toubon, secretary-general of Chirac's Rally for the Republic party, denounced what he called the "wet blankets, the grumblers who split hairs when they should simply be happy."
"An objective fact: with the government of Jacques Chirac, when there are hostages, they are freed," he added. "For order, liberty and security, Jacques Chirac and his government are very effective."