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French Right Wins Majority in Legislative Elections

President Nicolas Sarkozy's Union for a Popular Movement has won a majority in the French legislative elections, but fell short of expectations. If preliminary results hold, the UMP will have won between 320 and 360 seats in the 577-member legislature. Anita Elash reports for VOA from Paris.

After the first round of voting June 10, Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP party was on track to win between 75 and 80 per cent of the seats in the French National Assembly. But in the second round Sunday, the party lost ground to its main rival, the Socialist Party.

According to preliminary results, the UMP would have a majority in the assembly, but a smaller one than the right wing had in the previous government of President Jacques Chirac. The Socialists will hold about one-third of the seats, with various other parties making up the rest.

All week long, pollsters were predicting a much stronger showing for Mr. Sarkozy's party. But by mid-week, his government came under attack after announcing plans to increase the value added tax by up to five percent in order to finance a reduction in the social charges that companies pay.

Francois Hollande, the president of the Socialist Party, said that was part of the reason why voters moved away from Mr. Sarkozy's party.

He said French citizens wanted a strong opposition to their new government, which is indispensable in a democracy. But he told party supporters in Paris people

also wanted to express their doubts and fear about the government's first initiatives - a plan to increase the value added tax and to charge a flat fee for health care.

Voter turnout Sunday was unusually low - only about 60 per cent of eligible voters.

Mr. Sarkozy said he and his prime minister, Francois Fillon, plan to get down to work right away on a package of ambitious economic reforms. Mr. Fillon has already called for an extraordinary session of parliament to begin at the end of June.