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France Votes For New President to Succeed Chirac

Citizens in France are going to the polls Sunday in the first round of voting to choose a successor to President Jacques Chirac, who is stepping down after 12 years in office. The polls opened early Sunday morning. Results are expected shortly after the polls close Sunday night. Anita Elash reports for VOA from Paris.

Record numbers of French citizens have registered to vote in this election. Nearly 45 million people. It's been a hard-fought battle between two leading candidates, Segolene Royal for the Socialist Party and Nicolas Sarkozy for the conservative Union for a Popular Movement.

Both are in their 50s, a relatively young age for French politicians, and both represent the prospect for a profound change in the country.

The polls were busy. Voters said this election is one of the most important in decades.

"It's very important because it could change a lot of things in France, depending on who wins," said one woman, Anne Milon, as she left a polling station in Paris. Another voter, Joseph Chiche, said he's had enough. France pays too much welfare, the Chinese are invading France, and French businesses are closing. He said the situation just isn't acceptable.

Sarkozy and Royal are considered the frontrunners, but there are 12 candidates in total. Two others, the centrist Francois Bayrou and the leader of the far right National Front party, Jean Marie Le Pen, could also make it through to the second round of voting.

The top two finishers in this vote will go to the second round of voting on May 6.