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Anger among French conservatives as party chief wants election deal with far right

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By Elizabeth Pineau and Louise Dalmasso

PARIS (Reuters) -The leader of France’s conservative Republicans called on Tuesday for an alliance between his party’s candidates and Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally in a snap parliamentary election – a political shift with wide repercussions.

“We say the same things so let’s stop making up imagined opposition,” Republicans (LR) leader Eric Ciotti told TF1 TV. “This is what the vast majority of our voters want. They tell us ‘reach a deal’.”

Ciotti’s comments signified that a decades-old consensus among mainstream parties to join forces to keep the far right out of power was blowing up following President Emmanuel Macron’s unexpected decision to call snap elections.

Ciotti’s move also seemed to push the Republicans (LR) – the heir to Charles de Gaulle and Jacques Chirac’s parties – to the brink of collapse, with several party lawmakers walking out the door.

“It’s unthinkable for me (and many LR MPs) that there could be the slightest agreement, the slightest alliance, even local, or personal, with the RN (National Rally),” Philippe Gosselin, an LR lawmaker, told Reuters, adding that LR lawmakers would create a new group.

Party veterans said Ciotti was isolated, but he controlled the party and they could struggle to meet the weekend deadline to field candidates outside the party structures.

Meanwhile, amid a number of fast moving developments, Le Pen’s niece, Marion Marechal, said the smaller far-right party of Eric Zemmour, to which she belongs, had failed to reach an election deal with the RN.

And France’s divided left-wing parties pledged to nominate joint candidates, but were yet to strike a formal deal, adding to uncertainty over the outcome of the June 30 and July 7 votes.

The anti-immigration, eurosceptic RN is widely expected to emerge as the strongest force, although it may fall short of an absolute majority, according to an opinion poll on Monday.

The RN was therefore looking for allies to secure control of parliament and it immediately welcomed Ciotti’s overtures.

LR was already a shadow of its former self, having lost key members to Macron’s centrist party and the far right. An LR parliamentary source estimated that only about 10 LR lawmakers, out of 61, would accept such a deal.

Jordan Bardella, president of the National Rally, later told France 2 television that his party will support “several dozen” of current Republican MPs and its candidates in the election.

‘BETRAYAL’?

Macron’s camp was quick to condemn Ciotti’s comments, which Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said were reminiscent of the 1938 Munich agreement signed by France and Britain with Nazi Germany. On the streets of Paris, some voters were shocked.

“I feel immense pain and I almost want to cry,” 55-year-old lawyer Franck Morel said. “I find it to be an unthinkable betrayal of the heritage of Gaullism.”

Other mainstream parties to the left and right have also been weaker since Macron was first elected president in 2017 on a neither-left-nor-right platform with an upstart party that wanted to reshape France’s political landscape.

All French political parties have been rushing to find alliances – and trying not to fall apart – since Macron announced the snap election following a poor performance by his Renaissance party in European Parliament elections on Sunday.

The euro dropped as did French stocks and bonds after Macron’s announcement. Rating agency Moody’s warned of the risk that political instability meant for France’s already challenging fiscal picture.

The RN calls for protectionist “France first” economic policies and a radical cut in immigration. It would restrict childcare benefits to French citizens and withdraw residency for migrants who are out of work for more than a year.

It has also proposed higher public spending, despite already significant levels of French debt, threatening to further raise financing costs at banks.

Speaking to Le Figaro, Macron said he was in for the win and that calling the election “was the right decision, in the interest of the country” and that it would clarify things.

He ruled out resigning, whatever the result of the election.

Marine Le Pen’s party would win 235 to 265 seats in the National Assembly, a huge jump from its current 88 but short of the 289 needed for an absolute majority, according to the survey published Monday.

The same poll sees LR with 40-55 seats, so the two combined might eke out an absolute majority, but with no certainty.

(Additional reporting by Tassilo Hummel, Benoit Van Overstraeten, Michel Rose, Nicolas Delame, Blandine Henault and Sudip Kar-Gupta, writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Angus MacSwan, Ros Russell and Tomasz Janowski)

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