France's presidential election campaigning neared the end Friday, with President Nicolas Sarkozy apologizing for his mistakes and leading challenger Francois Hollande confident of ousting him.
The first round of voting Sunday includes 10 candidates, but surveys of French voters show the embattled Sarkozy locked in a tight battle with Hollande, a Socialist. The two leading candidates will face off in the expected runoff May 6. The pre-election polls show Hollande the heavy favorite to win the second vote, which would make Sarkozy France's first one-term leader in more than 30 years.
On the last day of campaigning before the Sunday vote, the flashy Sarkozy apologized for his actions in the early days of his five-year term. He said his mistake was "not understanding the symbolic dimension of the president's role."
He told a radio interviewer it was a mistake he would not make again, saying, "Now, I know the job."
But the conservative Sarkozy defended his role in curbing French spending to help resolve the European governmental debt crisis. He said France would face more difficulties like debt-ridden Spain if it changes course.
"The minute we relax pressure on spending cuts, on deficit cuts and cuts in indebtedness, France will suffer the same fate as Spain,'' he said.
Hollande blamed Sarkozy for France's near 10 percent unemployment and called for sweeping changes to improve France's public finances.
"I want to profoundly reform my country: engage in a tax reform for justice, a reform of the banks to dominate the finance world, a territorial reform to create a new decentralization policy, a reform of justice to make it independent," he said.
As cheering crowds greeted him at one campaign stop, Hollande called for an "irreversible" vote against Sarkozy.
"What is at stake this Sunday, is to give me the necessary strength to challenge the 'departing candidate' in the second round," he said. "What is at stake this Sunday, is to make this victory an irresistible and irreversible one starting on April 22. So we don't have to wait 15 more days; no, we have to create this motion, this dynamic right away."