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Polls Closing In French Election Battle
The polls are closing in the first round of France's presidential election, in which 10 candidates are likely to be whittled down to two.
A winner will be declared if one contender gets over 50% of the vote, but the field is the most competitive since France adopted the presidential system in 1958.
Opinion polls on Friday gave five candidates double-digit support: the current President Nicolas Sarkozy, the Socialist Party's Francois Hollande, the National Front's Marine Le Pen, Jean-Luc Melenchon of the Left Front and Democratic Movement leader Francois Bayrou.
Also vying for votes are Europe Ecology's Eva Joly, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan who formed Arise the Republic, Nathalie Arthaud representing Workers' Struggle, Philippe Poutou for the New Anti-Capitalist Party and Jacques Cheminade representing Solidarity and Progress.
Despite the tight race, observers consider this to be a lacklustre campaign, which at times has descended into personal acrimony between the two frontrunners.
Polls suggest most voters could turn away from the mainstream in record numbers, with Mr Sarkozy's personal popularity dented by his reputation as a "bling" president forcing the country to accept austerity.
While on the left, many are disenchanted with the low-key campaign fought by Mr Hollande, who wants to bring in a 75% income tax level for those earning over a million euros a year, create 60,000 new teachers' jobs and regulate the financial industry.
That means support has moved to the so-called "conviction" parties on the far right and far left.
The result is that the time between this election and the run-off on May 6 will be spent political horse-trading, when the two front-runners try to mop up the support of those knocked out of the race.
For instance, if former socialist Mr Melenchon, who supports a 100% income tax on the super-rich, polls above 17% he may extract promises from Mr Hollande in order to secure his endorsement.
That could force Mr Hollande to move to the left.
Polls suggest the Socialist leader would triumph in the run-off, which would create concern in Europe.
He disagrees with core elements of the fiscal compact designed to bring financial stability to the eurozone, which Mr Sarkozy helped create with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.