Far right advances in French local elections

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The far-right National Front party was predicted to have made significant progress in the first round of local elections held in France Sunday while President Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP party fared badly.

The elections, for part of the cantons in the country's 100 departments, attracted fewer than half the eligible voters. They were seen as the last chance to assess the national mood before presidential and parliamentary elections next year.

Estimates gave the Socialist Party (PS) 30 percent of the vote, the UMP less than 20 percent and the National Front, enjoying a revival under the leadership of Marine Le Pen, daughter of founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, between 15 and 17 percent, up from 12 percent in regional elections in 2010.

A leftwing party and ecologists were each credited with between eight and 10 percent of the vote.

The poll attracted little enthusiasm, with public interest concentrated on events in Japan and Libya.

But the outcome has to be seen in the light of recent opinion polls that suggest that Sarkozy might have problems qualifying for the second and decisive round of voting in the presidential poll next year, coming third behind a socialist candidate and Le Pen and being eliminated.

UMP leaders said Sunday the low turnout made it impossible to draw any useful conclusions.

They have ruled out any deal with Le Pen's FN and will give no advice in cantons where socialist and FN candidates will face off in the second round of voting next Sunday.

The problem for the socialists is the choice among a plethora of candidates with the danger of a fratricidal contest.

© 2011 AFP

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