Socialist-conservative battle for Paris enters Round Two
Paris — The verbal slugging match dubbed by the French news media as the ''Battle of Paris'' has entered Round Two.
Round One began last summer, when the Socialist government proposed a law that would divide Paris into 20 municipalities. The move was seen by many here as an attempt to undermine the power base of the popular Paris Mayor Jacques Chirac, head of the Gaullist Rally for the Republic Party.
Almost overnight Mr. Chirac responded with an effective countercampaign. His supporters plastered the city with posters warning, ''They want to kill Paris,'' and succeeded in stirring up public indignation.
This time, Mr. Chirac has been embarrassed by a series of alleged financial scandals exposed by the leftist press.
A crew from the state-controlled television network led the foray with an expose of a shortage of nursing staff at an old-age home run by the city of Paris.
Then the leftist newspaper Liberation accused Mr. Chirac of diverting 7 million francs ($1 million) of municipal funds, presumably to his party's campaign chest, through phony consulting firms.
Most recently, the satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine published the contents of a memo that it said showed Mr. Chirac's party had received 2 million francs in campaign funds before the 1981 presidential campaign from oil imported by the state-run Elf-Aquitaine petroleum company.
Mr. Chirac has decided once again that the best way to defend himself is to launch a counterattack. In a press conference last week, Mr. Chirac charged that he was the victim of a ''campaign of lies'' orchestrated by the ''socialist-communist'' government, designed to discredit him and his party.
He called the charge by Le Canard Enchaine the ''height of fantasy,'' blamed the government for the shortage of staff at the nursing home, and said that Liberation had grossly overstated the amount of money allocated to the consulting firms in question. Meanwhile, the public prosecutor's office has ordered an inquiry into the matter of the consulting firms.
The polemic in this latest round of one-upmanship has reached breathtaking heights.
Mr. Chirac's party accused the Socialist government of creating a climate of ''social hate.''
In a statement, the party's political council said ''the pretexts invoked were an opportunity (for the left) to launch an opinion campaign in the pure style of the fascist leagues before the war, that wanted to discredit elected officials.''
In his press conference, Mr. Chirac demanded that the government investigate charges made by a conservative weekly, Le Journal du Dimanche, that a special police force had been set up by the government to spy on his party. Minister of the Interior Gaston Deferre has denied the charge.
Lurking in the background are the March elections, which are being taken as a test of the Socialist government's popularity. In recent months, the conservative opposition party has stepped up its criticism of Francois Mitterrand's government, which is battling to control unemployment and shore up a sinking franc.
Posters put up all over town by the opposition state their view in a simple and devastating way.
''It doesn't work? It's Socialist.''