Former president Nixon went on French television last night and told viewers who phoned in questions that he never lied about Watergate - only said things that later "seemed to be untrue."

Nixon defended his role in the Watergate scandal in a three-hour television program watched by millions of French.

Their questions were almost without exceptions sympathetic. But the former president still appeared to be uneasy under the camera lights, sweating profusely and visibly tensing at times.

Typical of the viewer's comments were, "Nixon was a victim, like Kennedy, of a plot but of a different kind."

Asked by one caller to explain the Watergate scandal, Nixon replies that it was "worse than a crime. It was an error, a series of errors. I am responsible for not having crushed it at the beginning."

At another point, a viewer asked Nixon whether he had ever lied about his role in the affair.

"I was not lying," Nixon replies. "I said things that later on seemed to be untrue."

Nixon said his forced departure from office in 1974 had serious effects. "If it hadn't been for Watergate, Congress would have adopted my energy program and we would not have had an energy crisis," he said.

Nixon is making a four-day visit to France specifically to appear on the question-and-answer program "Les Dossiers de L'Ecran," - files of the screen - aired over the state-owned French television network, which was picking up the bills for the former president and his party of eight.

Television host Joseph Pasteur gave Nixon a warm introduction and asked him how he had reconciled his anti-communism to two accomplishments of his presidency-detente and the withdrawal of American forces from Vietnam.

"There is no contradiction," Nixon replied. "I am anti-communist then and I an anti-communist now. But times have changed."

During a 41-minute film that opened the program, 10 operators took calls from viewers over 150 lines for a 90-minute question-and-answer period.

Moderators estimated 90 per cent of the calls were in support of Nixon. One viewer remarked: "There are many more Frenchmen who admire you than you think."

On the other side, a viewer asked: "Aren't you ashamed to appear in public, even in France?" And another called Nixon a traitor.

Among the former president's points:

During the 1973-1974 Arab oil boycott, the United States had no plans to occupy any oil-producing nation. "We could have faced very significant opposition," Nixon said.

The Central Intelligence Agency had underestimated Soviet missile strength for 11 years from 1960, and presidents based their defense programs on faulty information.

The Chilean people were responsible for overthrowing Marxist President Salvador Allende in 1973, and the post-coup military regime of Augosto Pinochet is evolving into a freer government than Allende's.

Nixon is scheduled to fly to England Thursday to give an address at Oxford University.

But in Oxford, a spokesman for a group of 200 Oxford students said today that his group plans to disrupt Nixon's speech to the Oxford Union Debating Society.

"We refuse to let Nixon come to Oxford to use its name and its reputation so that he can re-enter public life. The thought is outrageous," said Andy Paalborg, 23, an American and founder of a group that calls itself "The Campaign to Resist the Efforts of the Ex-President" (CREEP).

"It was the British students who were most anxious to prevent him from speaking," Paalborg siad. "The American students were simply interested in protesting in order to make a moral statement."