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French left gains largemajority in regional vote

PARIS, March 28 (AFP) – French President Jacques Chirac’s governing centre-right party suffered a serious blow Sunday as the opposition Socialists made significant gains in regional elections, according to early estimates by polling institutes.

The Socialists with Communist and Green party allies drew some 50 percent of the national vote, the government majority that backs Chirac won about 37 percent and the far-right National Front (FN) took at least 12.5 percent, according to estimates on French television.

Some 42 million voters cast ballots on Sunday in the second round of regional elections to choose assemblies in France’s 26 regions – 22 in mainland France and Corsica, plus four regions overseas.

Chirac’s Union for a Popular Majority (UMP) and its allies, which had controlled 14 of 22 regions in metropolitan France, looked set to lose control of at least nine of those regions to the left, according to preliminary results.

The bruising defeat could prompt a quick cabinet reshuffle, to show that Chirac has processed the message sent by voters unhappy with high unemployment and the government’s policies of public sector reform.

The most embarrassing loss came in the western region of Poitou-Charentes, the home territory of Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, according to estimates.

Segolene Royal, the partner of Socialist party leader Francois Hollande, led the left to victory in Poitou-Charentes with more than 55 percent of the vote, an improvement of three points over the left’s score in the first round.

The conservatives also looked set to lose to the left in Brittany, traditionally a center-right stronghold, and in Auvergne, which had been led by former French president Valery Giscard d’Estaing.

Turnout was at about 65 percent, an increase of at least three points over last Sunday’s first round, according to early estimates.


                                                              Subject: France news