The two top candidates were set to head back to the campaign trail just hours after the first round of voting in France's presidential election ended. The Socialist challenger has emerged as the front-runner.
Socialist candidate Francois Hollande emerged from the first round of France's presidential election on Sunday with a slim lead over the incumbent, Nicolas Sarkozy of the conservative UMP party.
Hollande took 28.6 percent of the vote compared to 27.2 for Sarkozy, according to official results released by France's interior ministry.
The far-right candidate, Marine Le Pen, took 17.9 percent, the best-ever result for a National Front member.
"The choice is simple, either continue policies that have failed with a divisive incumbent candidate or raise France up again with a new, unifying president," Holland told supporters in Tulle, his political stronghold.
Sarkozy blamed factors beyond his control as he attempted to put a positive spin on his result despite the fact that he had only finished second.
"These anxieties, this suffering, I know them, I understand them," Sarkozy said. "They are about respecting our borders, the determined fight against job relocations, controlling immigration, putting value on work, on security," he added, clearly seeking to push the buttons of right-of-center voters.
Having finished in third, the campaign for Marine Le Pen, who is thought to have taken votes away from the conservative incumbent, was over, but the daughter of long-time National Front leaders Jean-Marie Le Pen had reason to be delighted with the best-ever result for a far-right candidate.
"Nothing will be as it was before … the people of France have invited themselves to the table of the elite," she said, adding that she would declare which, if any of the two candidates she would support in the runoff, on May 1.
The latest opinion polls indicate that Hollande will win the second round with at least 53 percent of the vote.
pfd/ncy (AFP, Reuters)