French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen called on his supporters Tuesday to abstain in this weekend's presidential vote pitting right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy against socialist Segolene Royal.
Le Pen says his supporters should not vote for Sarkozy
"Both of them are official representatives of parties and policies that for the past 30 years have brought France to the brink of a political, economic, social, cultural and moral abyss," Le Pen told
cheering supporters in Paris.
The National Front leader, who stunned France in 2002 when he made it to the run-off presidential ballot against current President Jacques Chirac, urged his voters to "save their votes" for parliamentary elections in June.
"I call on voters who have shown their confidence in me to cast their vote neither for Madame Royal nor for Mr. Sarkozy," Le Pen said in a speech in front of the ornate Paris opera house after his party's traditional May 1 parade.
More than 4,000 supporters took part in the parade, shouting "We want Le Pen, not Segolene. We want Jean-Marie, not Sarkozy."
Some 3.8 million people voted in the first round for the 78-year-old anti-immigrant leader, who took fourth place with 10.44 percent of the vote.
Le Pen lost many voters to Sarkozy, the right-winger who has consistently led in the opinion polls since campaigning began.
Segolene Royal is fighting hard to get the centrist vote
He has accused Sarkozy during the campaign of encroaching on his territory with his tough stance on immigration and law and order, and Sarkozy's left-wing critics likewise accused him of pandering to the extreme right.
But Le Pen warned: "It would be illusory and dangerous to vote for the socialist candidate to get revenge for the hold-up carried out on our program by Nicolas Sarkozy."
The majority of Le Pen voters -- 61 percent according to a poll published Tuesday -- were seen as likely to cast ballots for Sarkozy. The Ipsos/Dell poll said 15 percent would pick Royal.
Battle for the center
The presidential rivals were continuing their battle for support from the 6.8 million voters who chose the centrist Francois Bayrou in the April 22 first round.
Bayrou has denounced Sarkozy and has been making overtures to Royal, a former environment minister. An Ipsos opinion poll released Tuesday said 41 percent of voters who picked Bayrou in the first round will choose Royal on Sunday, while 32 percent will go for Sarkozy.
Many of Le Pen's votes would go to right-wing candidate Sarkozy
The high point of the election campaign comes on Wednesday, when Sarkozy and Royal, who wants to be France's first woman president, face each other for a two-hour televised debate expected to attract 20 million viewers.
Sarkozy, the son of a Hungarian immigrant, has pushed a right-wing program based on the themes of work and national identity. His tough talk has sparked fears he would divide rather than unite the nation.
Royal, an army officer's daughter, has presented herself as a nurturing mother figure and has proposed a leftist economic program that would keep France's generous welfare system intact.
Both candidates come from a new generation of leaders born after World War II, and both claim to represent a break from a discredited past.
The pair also agrees that France needs radical solutions to save it from a huge public debt, stubbornly high unemployment and seething discontent in the high-immigration suburbs.
The Ipsos poll put Sarkozy at 53 percent of voting intentions and Royal at 47 percent in the race to pick a successor to Jacques Chirac, who steps down next month after leading the country for 12 years.