France | Jacques Chirac Gains French Presidency
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Jacques Chirac Gains French Presidency
On his third try, Chirac won the presidency in May 1995, campaigning vigorously on a platform to reduce unemployment. Elections for the national assembly in 1997 gave the Socialist coalition a majority. Shortly after becoming president, Chirac resumed France's nuclear testing in the South Pacific, despite widespread international protests as well as rioting in the affected countries. Socialist leader Lionel Jospin became prime minister in 1997. In the spring of 1999, the country took part in the NATO air strikes in Kosovo, despite some internal opposition.
Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the right-wing anti-immigrant National Front Party, shocked France in April 2002 with his second-place finish in the first round of France's presidential election. He took 17% of the vote, eliminating Lionel Jospin, the Socialist prime minister, who tallied 16%. Jospin, stunned by the result, announced that he was retiring from politics and threw his support behind incumbent president Jacques Chirac, who won with an overwhelming 82.2% of the vote in the runoff election. Chirac's center-right coalition won an absolute majority in parliament. In July 2002, Chirac survived an assassination attempt by a right-wing extremist.
During the fall 2002 and winter 2003 diplomatic wrangling at the United Nations over Iraq, France repeatedly defied the U.S. and Britain by calling for more weapons inspections and diplomacy before resorting to war. Relations between the U.S. and France have remained severely strained over Iraq.
France sent peacekeeping forces to assist two African countries in 2002 and 2003, Côte d'Ivoire and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
After becoming Prime Minister in 2002, Jean-Pierre Raffarin's plan to overhaul the national pension system sparked numerous strikes across France in May and June 2003, involving tens of thousands of sanitation workers, teachers, transportation workers, and air traffic controllers. In August, a deadly heat wave killed an estimated 10,000 mostly elderly people. The deaths occurred during two weeks of 104°F (40°C) temperatures.
In 2004, the French government passed a law banning the wearing of Muslim headscarves and other religious symbols in schools. The government maintained that the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols threatened the country's secular identity; others contended that the law curtailed religious freedom.
In March 2004 regional elections, the Socialist Party made enormous gains over Chirac's Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) Party. Unpopular economic reforms are credited for the UMP's defeat.
On May 29, 2005, French voters rejected the European Union constitution by a 55%–45% margin. Reasons given for rejecting the constitution included concerns about forfeiting too much French sovereignty to a centralized European government and alarm at the EU's rapid addition of 10 new members in 2004, most from Eastern Europe. In response, President Chirac, who strongly supported the constitution, replaced Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin with Dominique de Villepin, a former foreign minister.