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Chirac uses net to rally riot support

Published: 11:38AM Tuesday November 08, 2005 Source: Reuters

Although struggling with worsening urban violence, French President Jacques Chirac's ruling conservative party has found the time to make sure it comes out on top in internet searches on the rioting.

The French version of Google ( www.google.fr) returns a sponsored link to www.u-m-p.org, the home page for Chirac's Union for a Popular Majority (UMP), when users type "riots" and "Paris" (or the French words for riots and suburb, "emeutes" and "banlieue") into the search field.

"Riots in the suburbs: Support Nicolas Sarkozy's policy to restore order" the link reads, referring to France's interior minister, who is also leader of the UMP - and a politician with ambitions of replacing Chirac as president in 2007 elections.

Franck Louvrier, Sarkozy's spokesman, said the company hired by the UMP to run the website paid for the link as a way to respond to voters who were emailing spontaneous messages of support "every 60 seconds".

The UMP website is headed by a banner with a photo Sarkozy, whose hardline comments about waging "a war without mercy" against the "rabble" causing trouble in France's poor suburbs has been blamed by some for fuelling the violence.

One of the bigger links on the website leads to a page urging visitors to fill out a form to "support the firm policies of Nicolas Sarkozy" by leaving their name and details to show they agreed with him that he "must show no weakness to those assaulting our fellow citizens and ransacking their property".

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