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France's Opposition Left Gains in Local Elections


France's left made gains in the first round of local elections Sunday marked by a relatively high turnout. Lisa Bryant has more on the preliminary results from Paris.

Initial results by the CSA-Dexia polling agencies gave the Socialist and Greens 47.5 percent of the vote, compared to 40 percent for the ruling Union for a Popular Movement, or UMP.

The opposition Socialist Party appeared to have captured the lead in key French towns, including Rouen, Lyon and Rheims. But the center-right UPM party seemed to hold ground in several others, including Bordeaux and Angers. In Paris, popular Socialist Mayor Bertrand Delanoe was surging ahead.

Elected seats in some 37,000 cities, towns and villages are up for grabs in the two-round election. Participation was fairly high, with more than 68 percent of eligible voters casting their ballots.

Analyst Pascal Perrineau said the shift to the left was unmistakable.

Perrineau told France Info radio that the push to the left was confirmed - and that the right was far more vulnerable than it was during the last municipal elections, in 2001.

While local issues strongly marked the elections, pundits forecast voters also wanted to send a message to conservative president Nicolas Sarkozy, whose ratings have plunged in the 10 months since he was voted into office.

An IPSOS poll found that one-third of the voters planned on expressing their displeasure with Mr. Sarkozy and his government.

The French president has kept an uncharacteristically low profile during the campaign. But he says the results will not sway his efforts to push through widespread and generally unpopular reforms.

The second round of the local elections takes place next Sunday.

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