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    Challenger Hollande Emerges as Frontrunner in French Election

    Socialist Party candidate for the presidential election Francois Hollande greets supporters after delivering his speech in Tulle, central France, Sunday, April 22, 2012.
    Socialist Party candidate for the presidential election Francois Hollande greets supporters after delivering his speech in Tulle, central France, Sunday, April 22, 2012.
    Lisa Bryant

    Socialist Party candidate Francois Hollande emerged the frontrunner in the first round of presidential voting in France, with nearly compete results giving him more than 28 percent of the vote compared to 27 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 the presidential election in France. Polls have consistently placed President Sarkozy and his Socialist challenger, Mr. Hollande, as the top vote-getters.

    In a speech after the initial results were announced, Mr. 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.

    Ten 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.

    Le Pen had 18 percent of the vote, surprising many poll-watchers. She plans to advise here supporters how to vote in the runoff.

    Voter turnout Sunday was about 80 percent of those elibible to go to the polls.

    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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