INTERNATIONAL: Le Pen's strategist plans PR offensive

PARIS: Far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen's campaign strategist Martial Bilt is waging a media relations war as the second round of the French presidential elections loom.

Bilt said he is planning a PR blitz over the days leading up to the 5 May vote, when Le Pen will go head-to-head with current president Jacques Chirac.

The campaign will feature intense media relations activity, with Le Pen making at least two media appearances a day in a bid to gain as much coverage as possible.

Bilt said he also expected more than 100,000 marchers to take part in this week's annual National Front march, set to be held in Paris, honouring Joan of Arc.

Le Pen's second major public appearance is set for Marseilles after the march, with a third scheduled for Lyon, but Bilt said they were 'unable to find anybody to rent us a meeting hall'.

Bilt said problems such as this were unique to Le Pen's campaign and led to the decision to focus his PR on maximising media coverage.

'Such (media) events are certainly more cost-effective, given our limited resources. Our financial means are limited and our resources are several times less than those Chirac has at his disposal,' added Bilt.

The National Front is hoping to win at least 30 per cent of votes on 5 May. When Le Pen eliminated prime minister Lionel Jospin in the first round of the elections last month, pollsters forecast Le Pen would do well to notch up 20 per cent in the second round.

Further clashes are expected this week between Le Pen's supporters and his opponents at the National Front march in Paris. Authorities have reportedly made plans for 3,000 police officers, including 1,600 riot police, to be ready to react to any violence.

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