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Rivals In TV Row Ahead Of Crucial French Poll
The two candidates in the French Presidential election have squared off in a bad-tempered live TV debate.
Socialist front-runner Francois Hollande and the incumbent, conservative Nicolas Sarkozy, traded barbs on the economy, immigration, religious tolerance and nuclear energy.
The encounter lasted for three hours, with clocks to allocate equal time, and individual air conditioning units to ensure neither looked over-heated.
The most fiery exchanges were over France's stuttering economy, with Mr Hollande suggesting the president seemed happy with his stewardship despite national debt doubling and unemployment rising to four million.
"Mr Hollande, when you lie so shamelessly, do I have to accept it?" Mr Sarkozy replied angrily. "It's a lie. It's a lie. It's a lie," he repeated, jabbing his finger at his opponent.
Mr Sarkozy derided his rival's plan to create tens of thousands of new public sector jobs with a tax-and-spend policy he called unrealistic and dangerous.
"You want fewer rich people. I want fewer poor people," he retorted.
But Mr Hollande's most aggressive line of attack was over the president's co-authorship of an EU compact which binds all 17 Eurozone countries to a rigorous regime of fiscal discipline.
Mr Sarkozy countered that Europe was "over" the crisis, which drew a withering response from the other candidate.
"Europe has not got over it. Europe is today facing a possible resurgence of the crisis with generalised austerity, and that's what I don't want," he argued.
They also fought over immigration and religious freedom, with Mr Hollande accusing Mr Sarkozy of lurching to the right on French tests for new immigrants.
"Borders are not a bad word," Mr Sarkozy said, referring to his calls to limit the number of immigrants France takes in.
Mr Sarkozy needs to attract some of the 6.4 million voters who supported the Front National's Marine Le Pen in the first round of the election if he is to dent the Socialist candidate's lead.
There are just two campaigning days left as Saturday is traditionally a day of reflection.
Neither man dealt a title-winning punch in this testy encounter, but that is more likely to trouble the underdog - the current occupant of the Elysee Palace.