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Voter Anger Bodes Change in France

Socialist Party candidate for the presidential election Francois Hollande meets a resident with his companion Valerie Trierweiler, center, as he tours Tulle, after voting , May 6, 2012.

Sunday's national elections in Greece and France, along with local elections in Italy, are expected to be shaped by voter anger over Europe's high unemployment, sluggish growth and harsh government austerity measures. In France, that anger could see President Nicolas Sarkozy lose to Socialist rival Francois Hollande in the runoff presidential election.

Voters trickle out of a municipal building on a chilly morning, heading home - or to a street market just around the corner to do their Sunday shopping.

Cyril Blanchard is one of them. A manager at Thompson-Reuters financial company, he says France's economic problems have helped shape his vote. Blanchard's choice: conservative French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

"I think we really need to do something to fight against the crisis and to reduce our deficits and to work on the wealth of the country, so that's what decided my vote," he said.

During his campaign, Sarkozy tried to convince voters he has the experience and stamina to make the tough choices that France needs at a time of high unemployment and almost zero growth. The French president also talked tough on curbing immigration.

Socialist candidate Francois Hollande says France needs measures to boost growth as well as cut spending. He wants to renegotiate a European fiscal pact in this direction. While Mr. Hollande also wants less immigration, his rhetoric and platform are less harsh than Sarkozy's.

Hollande's arguments have convinced teacher Delphine Barnier Schilot, who cast her ballot for the Socialist candidate.

Schilot believes Sarkozy's five years in office have been negative in every way. She says Hollande is fair and has integrity. She believes he will be able to tackle France's difficult economic problems.

Sunday's vote caps a bitter runoff campaign between the two candidates, who traded barbs and accusations of lying.

At the market near the polling station, some French, like fish seller Abdel Chili, are turned off by both men. He's cast an empty ballot in this runoff.

Chili sees little difference between Sarkozy and Hollande. But he's particularly angry at the French president, whom he calls a liar. But he says all politicians are just actors.

Chili's angry words are reflected across Europe, where people are bitter and tired after several years of tough economic times. They have vented their anger with their ballots, casting out more than half a dozen governments to date.

Nicolas Sarkozy
François Hollande

  • Elected President of France in 2007
  • Raised France's legal retirement age from 60 to 62
  • Born in 1955 and raised in Paris
  • Married to former supermodel Carla Bruni
  • Committed to balancing France's budget by 2016

  • Has never held national government office
  • Called for 75% tax on France's richest people
  • Wants to cut president's salary by 30%
  • Born 1954 in Roen
  • Not married; former partner of Segolene Royal

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