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Sarkozy's conservatives edge out National Front, Socialists in French elections

A conservative alliance led by ex-President Sarkozy has emerged as the victor in the first round of local French elections. The far-right National Front has remained adamant in its message despite underperforming.

A coalition of right-wing parties, including the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) led by former President Nicolas Sarkozy, claimed victory in France's local elections on Sunday after a hotly contested race saw the far-right National Front (FN)

perform under expectations

and a dismal finish for the Socialists of much-maligned President Francois Hollande.

According to the latest polls, the conservative alliance took 32.5 percent of the vote across the 98 administrative regions (departments) where elections were held. Provisional official figures gave the anti-EU and anti-immigration FN around 25.35 percent, below the 30 percent expected ahead of the poll from French voters dissatisfied with the stagnant economy and current immigration policy.

The FN led this first round of voting in 43 of the departments, "concentrated in the southeast, particularly in the cities and near the cities in runs," said political scientist Jean-Yves Camus.

Results don't discourage Le Pen

National Front's leader, Marine Le Pen, whose possible presidential race in 2017 would have been bolstered by better numbers, retreated to a common theme of her party after the results were announced, saying that mainstream French politics were conspiring in a campaign of "hate" against her party.

She remained bullish in the face of the results, pointing out the fact that the numbers were even higher than the party's victorious tally in European elections last year.

"This massive vote for the National Front that is taking root in election after election shows that the French want to rediscover their freedom. Send home those who have brought France to her knees, and bring a new political generation to power," she said.

The ruling Socialist party and its leftist allies were left with around 22 percent. The failure of President Hollande's administration to curb double-digit unemployment figures has seen his party hemorrhage support since he took office in 2012.

The Socialists and Conservatives will however be able to call on smaller allies when voters return for a second round of voting on March 29, while the FN will struggle to find partners. The mainstream parties have closed ranks in recent weeks to prevent the FN from gaining more power.

"There will be no local or national deal with the leaders of the FN," Nicolas Sarkozy said immediately after the initial figures were released.

es/lw (AP, AFP)

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