April 13 - Socialist presidential candidate Francois Hollande claims front-runner status, pushing incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy to second ahead of run-offs, and the far-right wins a record 18 percent. Lindsey Parietti reports.
Centre Left Francois Hollande narrowly pipped conservative president Nicolas Sarkozy in the first round of France's presidential elections. The Socialist candidate took just over 28.6 percent of the Sunday vote with 99 percent of ballots counted. (SOUNDBITE) (French) SOCIALIST PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE FRANCOIS HOLLANDE SAYING: "I have all the reasons to be (satisfied) but at the same time I respect the French, the campaign is still under way, it has to carry on to the end and allow for a choice. But it's true that we've come out in the lead, we have a total number of votes gathered by all the left candidates and others will add to it. I'm confident but it's for the French to chose their destiny." Sarkozy took 27.1 percent, making him the only sitting president to take second place in the first round of a re-election bid. Despite the president's flagging popularity, some still hope he can come from behind. (SOUNDBITE) (French) PASSER-BY JEAN LUC TAVAR SAYING: "Mr Sarkozy is a fighter. He is a super fighter and a political warrior, an animal, and it is possible he will still win" The president's spokeswoman explains why Sarkozy wants to hold three presidential debates instead of the traditional one in the lead up to the May 6 run-off. (SOUNDBITE)(English) SPOKESWOMAN FOR FRENCH PRESIDENT NICOLAS SARKOZY, NATHALIE KOSCIUSKO-MORIZET, SAYING: "So Francois Hollande and Sarkozy now have two weeks to express themselves, to tell their truths. Francois Hollande would like this debate not to take place. He tries to flee. But he won't be able to flee so long. He has now to debate and I'm sure the French will find the right conclusions." But it was Marine Le Pen who stole the show by surging to 18 percent - the biggest tally ever for a far right candidate. The hard leftist Jean Luc Melenchon finished fourth with 11.1 percent Sarkozy and Hollande will have to woo ultra-conservative voters, as well as trying to shore up fewer of the leftist votes, over the next two weeks ahead of the run-off. Lindsey Parietti, Reuters