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Eyes To The Far Right: Sarkozy Battles For Job
Nicolas Sarkozy is battling to survive as French President after he was runner-up in the first round of voting to Socialist rival Francois Hollande.
With 98% of the votes counted, Mr Hollande is in the lead winning 28.6% of the vote. Mr Sarkozy is just behind his rival with 27.1%.
"Tonight I become the candidate of all the forces who want to turn one page and turn over another," Mr Hollande said following the vote.
Mr Sarkozy, speaking at his campaign headquarters on Paris' Left Bank, said he recognised voters' concerns about jobs and immigration, and "the concern of our compatriots to preserve their way of life".
In more bad news for Mr Sarkozy, a new opinion poll suggested he will lose the May 6 second round run-off with Mr Hollande.
The survey suggests the Socialist leader will beat the centre-right incumbent by 54% to 46%.
The Ipsos survey, commissioned by French public television and the daily Le Monde newspaper, predicted a majority of those who backed candidates eliminated in the first round would support Mr Hollande.
Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, of the National Front, got 18.1% and far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon polled 11.1%.
Ms Le Pen's strong showing throws the presidential race wide open, potentially making her the kingmaker as her supporters could determine the run-off.
It also sends a definitive message that voters in France are disillusioned with the mainstream parties.
Mr Sarkozy's closest supporters insist he still has a fighting chance now that he is facing a single challenger instead of the nine in the first round.
"Nothing is in the bag yet," said foreign minister Alain Juppe.
Despite the tight race, observers consider this to be a lacklustre campaign, which at times has descended into personal acrimony between the two front-runners.