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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Politicians Rally Against Le Pen

PARIS -- With words of shock and shame over Jean-Marie Le Pen's stunning showing, French political leaders of all stripes tucked away their differences Monday and threw support behind President Jacques Chirac in an attempt to thwart the extreme right's bid for power.

"It is the honor of our country that is at stake," said Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former finance minister and spokesman for defeated Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, explaining why he would support the conservative Chirac.

He was joined by a host of other defeated presidential hopefuls and their allies all still not quite able to believe that Le Pen had outpolled all but Chirac in Sunday's first round to advance to the presidential runoff.

The result brought thousands of anti-Le Pen demonstrators onto the streets of France's major cities Sunday night and protests continued Monday. Hundreds of high school students protested Monday in Lyon, Marseille, Strasbourg, Nantes, Toulouse, Carpentras, Besan?on and Reims.

Le Pen is virulently anti-immigration and is seen by many as racist and anti-Semitic.

In a highly fragmented field of a record 16 candidates, Chirac pulled in 19.88 percent of the vote, Le Pen 16.8 percent and Jospin 16.18 percent, according to official results released Monday. The abstention rate of 28 percent was also a record.

Le Pen was able to capitalize on fears about crime in France -- fears that multiplied with the recent killing of eight city councilmen by a crazed gunman in suburban Paris.

The number of candidates from all political fields was a factor in Le Pen's success. The splintered left -- which included far-left Trotskyist candidate Arlette Laguiller, who pulled in nearly 6 percent -- spelled trouble for Jospin.

Green Party candidate Noel Mamere asked backers to transfer their support to Chirac -- a request that would once have been unimaginable.

"We're facing a choice that could be considered impossible," Mamere said. "We have a responsibility to society."

Jospin has not endorsed Chirac. However, many close to him have done so. "Jean-Marie Le Pen represents everything I hate, and so I have no hesitation in saying: I will vote for Jacques Chirac," Strauss-Kahn told France-Inter radio.

Jean-Pierre Chevenement, a former Socialist known for supporting traditional values, said "France should not be abandoned" to Le Pen's National Front party. Francois Bayrou, a conservative rival of Chirac's, met with the president to talk strategy.