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  • Date :
  • 5/5/2007

First Votes Cast in France Election

Nicolas Sarkozy

The first votes were to be cast Saturday by citizens in France"s overseas territories for Nicolas Sarkozy and Segolene Royal in the country"s hardest-fought presidential election in years.

Voters in French Guiana, the Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe and the tiny archipelago of Saint Pierre and Miquelon off Canada"s coast are going to the polls a day early.

In mainland France official campaigning ended Friday at midnight, with Saturday a day for reflection with family and friends ahead of Sunday"s vote.

The last opinion polls before a midnight ban gave right-wing candidate Sarkozy 55 percent of the vote against 45 percent for the Socialist Royal.

It was the biggest lead yet in a poll for the head of the ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), who goes into Sunday"s vote as clear favorite.

The IPSOS poll, which was conducted during the day, found that 91 percent of voters are sure of their decision.

Of people who chose the defeated centrist Francois Bayrou in the first round of the vote, 36 percent said they would vote for Sarkozy and 35 percent for Royal.

The two opponents came first and second in the April 22 multi-candidate round of the election with 31.2 percent of the vote for Sarkozy and 25.9 percent for Royal.

The second round campaign has focused on winning the 6.8 million voters 18.6 percent of the vote who chose Bayrou in round one.

Slipping in the polls, Royal launched a last-minute broadside against Sarkozy, warning his election would unleash violence across the country.

Royal said she had a "responsibility to issue an alert over the risks ... regarding the violence and brutalities that will be triggered across the country".

Her comments Friday on RTL radio were taken as a direct warning to voters that a Sarkozy victory could set off riots in the high-immigration suburbs similar to ones in November 2005.

Royal was immediately rebuked by Sarkozy"s campaign headquarters, which described her remarks as "unacceptable and irresponsible".

Sarkozy finished his campaign on the Plateau de Glieres in eastern France, which was the site of a decisive battle between the French resistance and German troops in 1944.

France is choosing a successor to 74 year-old Jacques Chirac president since 1995 in an election that has become the focus of impassioned debate about the country"s future.

Sarkozy promises right-wing reforms based on tax cuts, incentives to work and a return to French "values". But enemies see him as a divisive character who will "tear the social fabric" of the country if elected.

Running a highly personal campaign as candidate of a revitalized left, Royal, 53, is the first woman to have a serious chance of becoming France"s president.

Voting starts Sunday at 8:00 am (0600 GMT) in mainland France. It is held a day early in French overseas territories in the Americas.


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