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France Prepares For Close Vote in Sunday's Presidential Election


Friday is the last day of campaigning before the first round of voting in the presidential election in France. The two leading candidates, former Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist Party candidate Segolene Royal, are running neck and neck. But record numbers of voters are still undecided. Anita Elash reports for VOA from Paris.

The latest opinion polls put two candidates well in the lead. Former Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy is in first place. His closest rival, Socialist Party candidate Segolene Royal, is just a few points behind. But the polls also show that with just two days to go, about 40 percent of voters still haven't decided. Of those who have, nearly half are wavering.

By law, the candidates must stop campaigning at midnight tonight. They've spent the last few days trying to win the votes of those who cannot make up their mind.

Segolene Royal is worried about a repeat of the last election, when the Socialist Party candidate lost to far right leader Jean Marie Le Pen in the first round. She was in the southern city of Toulouse last night.

"I'm asking everyone who believes in the same values as I do to come and vote for me starting with the first round," she told supporters.

Nicolas Sarkozy has been battling a concerted attack from his opponents. In Marseille last night, he continued with his message that he would restore French pride.

"The first round is just the first step," he said. "I'm asking you to make my fight your fight. I'm asking you to stand up for the silent majority that no longer wants someone else to speak for them. Long live the republic! Long live France!"

There are 10 other candidates in this election. They include a Communist, three Trotskyists, an anti-globalizaion campaigner, and a man who defends the rights of hunters and fisherman. Centrist Francois Bayrou, a historian and part-time horse farmer, is in third place, and Jean Marie Le Pen, the leader of the far right National Front, is in fourth.

Most analysts say Sarkozy and Royal will likely make it through to the second and final round of voting. But with so many candidates and so many undecided voters, either Bayrou or Le Pen could cause an upset.

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