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Sarkozy, Royal to Face Off for French Presidency
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Right-wing Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist Segolene Royal finished ahead in the first round of the French presidential race and will face each other in two weeks' time, results showed on Sunday. Sarkozy, the tough former interior minister led the field throughout the campaign but was unable to establish a majority, forcing him to face Royal in a run-off on May 6th.

Sarkozy claimed the lion's share with around 31 percent of the vote with Royal on 26, according to major survey organizations.

Centrist candidate Francois Bayrou who had played a major threat in the campaign came third with around 18 percent tailed by far right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen with a disappointing 11 percent. None of the other eight contenders cleared the 5 percent mark.

Overseas Territories Minister Herve Mariton from Sarkozy's Union of a Popular Movement (UMP), stated that 30 percent was a good result for Sarkozy, obliterating the 19.88 percent won by President Jacques Chirac in the first round in 2002.

The biggest loser among the four leading candidates was Le Pen. This year's 11 percent is calamitous compared to the 16.86 percent that allowed him to access the second round in 2002.

Bayrou made encouraging progress, tripling his 6.84 percent from 2002, but failed to do quite enough to get to the second round.

In a speech to his supporters, a high-spirited Bayrou claimed that France's politics would never be the same again.

In his speech, front-runner Sarkozy tried to appeal to the supporters of both Royal and Bayrou, through promises of a "fraternal France" under his presidency.

He devoted his six-minute speech to social themes such as protecting the disadvantaged and tolerance for diversity, two themes that did not emerge during his previous campaigning.

"I want one thing and one thing only: to bring French people together around a new French dream," he told a cheering crowd, " a fraternal republic, in which every one has a place ... where diversity will be considered not a threat, but a wealth."

The dividing force that is Sarkozy also mentioned the merit of working for a living. However, he also sought to shed his mantle as an uncompromising elitist by saying the weak would be protected from violence, delinquency and unfair competition. 

Royal, speaking in her hometown of Melle, 400 km southwest of Paris, vowed to change France without tearing it apart, in an apparent move to draw conservative votes to her.

"Let me reach out my hands to you, all of you, who believe as I do that it is not only possible, but also imperative that we should turn our backs once and for all on a system that is spent," Royal told supporters who clamored "Segolene, presidente."

"Many of us, men and women today, above and beyond who we have voted in the first round, do not wish to see France governed by the rule of the fittest, the rule of the jungle," she said.

Royal's manifesto and speeches have revolved around justice, security, education and family. "There is no respect without justice. There is no economic effectiveness if it is not based on social progress."

According to an IPSOS poll conducted right after the first round results, it appears Sarkozy has a 54-46 lead over Royal ahead of the run-off. 

However, many analysts remain unconvinced. Mariton, the UMP minister, cautioned that the split of Bayrou voters could well give Royal the edge.

Sarkozy could gain votes from Le Pen's supporters but a well-known political vendetta between the two men may lead to less support than expected for the favorite.

(Xinhua News Agency April 23, 2007)

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