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Socialist Challenger Hollande Emerges Frontrunner in French Election

Socialist Party candidate for the French presidential election Francois HollandeSocialist Party candidate for the French presidential election Francois Hollande
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Socialist Party candidate for the French presidential election Francois Hollande
Socialist Party candidate for the French presidential election Francois Hollande
Lisa Bryant
PARIS - Socialist Party candidate Francois Hollande emerged the frontrunner in the first round of presidential voting in France, with initial results giving him 29.3 percent of the vote compared to 26 percent for conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy. The two men face a runoff vote on May 6.

There were no major surprises in the first round of presidential elections in France. Polls have consistently placed French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his Socialist challenger, Francois Hollande, as the top vote-getters.

In a speech after the initial results were announced, Hollande said his win reflected the failed policy of France's conservative president.

Mr. Hollande said he was now a candidate of union, who wanted to assemble voters supporting a hodgepodge of leftist parties during the first round.

In his own speech, Mr. Sarkozy said the election expresses French worries during a time of crisis, and that he understands their concerns. Mr. Sarkozy called for three debates, on social, economic and international issues, in the coming two weeks before the second round of voting.

A total of 10 candidates ran in the first round. National Front leader Marine le Pen of the far right, and far left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, also scored in the double digits in the first round, although both trailed well behind the frontrunners.

But voter apathy was also present, with about one out of five eligible French voters opting to stay home.

Unemployment and the country's sluggish economy are top voter concerns during this election. Surveys show French are also worried about crime and immigration. Mr. Sarkozy has run on his law-and-order image and his experience steering France through its economic downturn and dealing with the larger eurozone crisis.

Mr. Hollande argues for stimulating growth, as well as spending cuts, if France is to emerge from its economic doldrums.

The two men are expected to hit the campaign trail again on Monday, trying to woo more voters for the May 6 runoff.

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