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Left Gains in French Local Elections


France's left emerged the winner in the second round of local elections Sunday, but the vote was not the resounding rejection of the policies of center-right President Nicolas Sarkozy and his government the opposition Socialists had hoped for. Lisa Bryant has more for VOA from Paris.

Preliminary results showed France's Socialist Party had scored wins in key cities, including Paris, Strasbourg, Rheims and Lille. Overall, the left was ahead by 49 percent of the vote compared to 47.5 percent for the right, according to preliminary results, reversing wins by the conservatives in the last 2001 municipal elections.

Still first results showed the right had retained another key battleground - the southern city of Marseille.

Turnout was slightly lower than during the first round of voting March 9, at around 54 percent.

Socialist Party leaders, in claiming victory, maintained voters sent a clear message of disapproval to the center-right president Nicolas Sarkozy and his government.

But French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said the government would hold its course, and cautioned against reading too much into a local election.

Prime Minister Fillon said it was not appropriate to draw national lessons from a vote for city and county seats. In a veiled criticism of the left, he said the results should not be used for partisan purposes.

French analyst Pascal Perrineau was also cautious.

Perrineau told France-Info radio that it was important not to draw overly broad national conclusions from the local ballots.

A BVA poll published Sunday found nearly two-thirds of French wanted the government and Mr. Sarkozy to change its policies. But a large majority of conservatives wanted the government to continue pushing its reform platform.

A major cabinet reshuffle is not expected, although French media speculate some senior government members could lose their jobs. Changes are also expected when it comes to Mr. Sarkozy's style of presidency.

After scoring high marks following his election last year, the French president plummeted in recent popularity polls, mainly because of his reform program and perceptions his tumultuous personal life was hurting his effectiveness as president.

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