French election gag sparks fun and fury on web

PARIS, April 22 Sun Apr 22, 2012 12:58pm EDT

PARIS, April 22 (Reuters) - France's endeavours to prevent premature leaks of Sunday's first round presidential election results set the web-warped world of Twitter alight with jibes, jokes and cryptic messages recalling coded World War Two radio communications.

"Netherlands-Hungary qualify for return leg," said one tweet in a play on the name of Socialist challenger Francois Hollande and the origin of President Nicolas Sarkozy's father.

Seeking to enforce a 1977 law that imposed a blackout on disclosing results, projections or exit polls before the last polling stations close at 8 p.m. (1800 GMT), authorities threatened fines of up to 75,000 euros ($99,000) for breaches.

But official warnings spurred derision and defiance with a profusion of dummy results and fun-poking messages on a micro-blogging network where national frontiers no longer exist.

The march of communications technology has made the law look increasingly like the Maginot line of anti-tank defences which France built on its borders in the 1920s but which failed to prevent German tanks invading in 1940.

Some tweets even referred to the coded messages broadcast by the Free French over Radio London to Resistance fighters in France during World War Two.

Only two of the 10 candidates in Sunday's first ballot go through to a runoff on May 6, in which the conservative Sarkozy is expected to meet the centre-left Hollande, clear favourite in opinion polls.

Twitter users had a field day concocting new names for candidates, imaginary news headlines of outcomes and officially unverifiable reports of partial results from remote overseas territories where voting took place on Saturday.

"According to observers returning from Syria, Russian tanks left at dawn, due to arrive in Paris at 20h (8 p.m.)," read one entry, alluding to a possible left-wing victory and closing time at polling stations.

Other aliases for Hollande included "Gouda", the "Flan", a caramel pudding that resembles one of his nicknames, and more transparently, "Rose of Correze", combining the Socialist colour with Hollande's rural constituency in central France.

For Sarkozy, they included "platform heels", a reference to Sarkozy's penchant for shoes that give the diminutive president a few extra centimetres in photographs, "Rolex" in a nod to his taste for flashy wrist wear, and "Goulash", a Hungarian recipe.

"Daddy's girl" clearly alluded to far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, who took over from her father Jean-Marie last year as head of the anti-immigration National Front.

Firebrand leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon was branded "hot red pepper" by one micro-message sender.

Some messages relayed unofficial partial results or send-ups of result headlines, using candidates' real names, but with their scores blotted out or drowned in a jumble of numbers and characters.

Polling institutes traditionally prepare reliable estimates for their clients, TV and radio stations, in the two hours between polling stations closing in most areas at 6 p.m. (1600 GMT) and the late closers in the big cities, opening up a gap when information can leak.

Among the myriad messages with a wartime ring were ones that mocked Sarkozy for his 2007 post-victory cruise aboard the private yacht of multi-millionaire businessman Vincent Bollore.

"Pink wave turns to tsunami, Bollore yacht in difficulty," said one. ($1 = 0.7571 euros) (Editing by Paul Taylor)

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