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French Socialist Presidential Candidate Woos Centrist Voters in TV Debate


French presidential candidate Segolene Royal has had a televised debate with defeated candidate Francois Bayrou in a bid to widen the support she needs to become the next French president.

Bayrou, who finished third in the first round of the presidential election last Sunday, refused to endorse the Socialist candidate in Saturday's debate. But he was cordial to her and openly hostile to center-right candidate Nicholas Sarkozy, who won the most votes and is ahead in opinion polls before the runoff.

Royal will face rival Sarkozy in a televised debate on Wednesday.

Centrist lawmaker Bayrou was critical of Royal's leftist economic program, which includes increased government spending. He said it would stifle growth.

Royal focused on similarities between the centrist and socialist platforms, and called the encounter a dialog rather than debate.

She said that modern politics requires overcoming confrontations in the interest of the country.

Political analysts say that Bayrou's appearing on the stage with Royal signified indirect support.

The Bayrou-Royal debate was to be hosted initially by Canal Plus television, but the broadcaster withdrew and another channel carried it. Bayrou and Royal accused Sarkozy of using his influence to stifle the debate. Sarkozy has denied the accusation, as has Canal Plus.

Both Royal and Sarkozy need to win the backing of some of the seven million centrist voters who supported Bayrou if they hope to become president. Sarkozy has refused to debate with Bayrou.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.

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