French Socialists in TV battle for presidential candidate

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The six French Socialist leaders battling for the right to stand against Nicolas Sarkozy in next year's presidential elections went head-to-head in a television debate Thursday.

The high-profile two-hour debate came a month before the party, which has not won a presidential election since 1988, holds US-style primaries to pick a candidate for the vote to be held next April and May.

The debate aims to inject momentum into a campaign that suffered a major setback when Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a Socialist whom polls early this year said would easily defeat Sarkozy, got caught up in a sordid sex scandal in New York.

Francois Hollande was given a clear lead in a poll published Tuesday in the left-wing daily Liberation. It said 40 percent of left-wing sympathisers would vote for him, against just 22 percent plumping for current party leader Martine Aubry.

The two frontrunners appeared alongside four outsiders to explain their projects and their differences and try to persuade voters to pick them in next month's primary -- the first of its kind in France.

The primary will not be limited to members of the Socialist Party (PS), as was the case ahead of the last presidential vote in 2007.

Any French citizen who declares that he or she is committed to left-wing ideals and hands over a euro can take part.

The debate on France 2 channel kicked off with each candidate speaking for one minute to explain why he or she should be elected. Then each got 10 minutes to answer questions from political journalists on their programmes.

Following that the candidates were due to engage in a debate.

The European sovereign debt crisis, unemployment, and financial regulation were the main themes as the programme got under way.

© 2011 AFP

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