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Latest update : 2009-06-05

French MoDem Party chief and a Green Party candidate exchanged harsh words on a live televised debate, with the former accusing the latter of having defended pedophilia, in one of the few memorable moments of this year’s campaigns.

AFP - The European parliamentary election campaign may not have fired up voters, but it has triggered an ugly debate among French political chieftains, who traded bitter insults at a televised debate.

The most heated exchange was between the leaders of the parties battling for third place, when Francois Bayrou of the centrist Modem accused Green flag-bearer and Daniel Cohn-Bendit of having defended paedophilia.

The clash erupted Thursday on France 2 television when Bayrou accused Cohn-Bendit, who as "Danny the Red" was a student radical leader in May 1968, of being a friend of France's right-wing President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Cohn-Bendit bristled and, impolitely adopting the familiar "tu" form of address, said: "Playing this kind of game before the citizens, I'm telling you, chum: You'll never be president, because you're pathetic."

Bayrou retorted that Cohn-Bendit was in no position to hand out insults, as he was himself responsible for a "number of ignominies". Challenged by the Green leader to provide examples, Bayrou went on the attack.

"For example, I myself find it ignoble to have pushed and justified acts, with regard to children, that I cannot accept," a none too thinly veiled reference to a controversial 1975 publication by Cohn-Bendit.

In the book, The Grand Bazaar, Cohn-Bendit described what he said were encounters with children while he lived in a radical commune in Germany and appeared to suggest that he had exchanged intimate caresses with them.

When, in 2001, the earlier writings threatened his new career in European politics he strongly defended himself against charges of paedophilia and received the support of the parents who were former members of the community.

The rest of the debate was almost as stormy. At one point leftist leader Jean-Luc Melenchon told moderating journalist Arlette Chabot to "Go to hell" because he felt she had not given him enough time to speak.

Marine Le Pen, daughter of far right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, accused anti-capitalist Olivier Besancenot of talking down to the French, leading him to reply: "When I listen to you I feel like joining a protest march."

And when Cohn-Bendit referred to his grand parents' deaths in a German concentration camp, Le Pen hit back: "And mine died fighting the Germans. Let's not have a competition over the dead!"

Summarising the debate, Chabot told viewers: "The idea was to encourage electors to turn out to vote. I'm not sure we managed that."

France is to go to the polls on Sunday to elect its representatives to the 27-nation European Parliament. Results from all the countries of the bloc are expected later that night.

Date created : 2009-06-05