Pollsters say Sarkozy will face an uphill battle to convince disillusioned voters that they should elect him again [Reuters]

Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, has officially announced that he was running for re-election, with fewer than 10 weeks to polling day and the centre-right leader trailing in opinion polls.

"Yes, I am a candidate in the presidential election," Sarkozy said in an interview on France's TF1 channel on Wednesday.

Sarkozy has lagged behind Socialist candidate Francois Hollande in opinion polls for months.

'Captain of a boat'

"I took this decision because France, Europe and the world have for the last three years seen a series of unprecedented crises, which means that not seeking a new mandate from the French people would be abandoning my duties," he said.

Sarkozy said he was presenting himself as "the captain of a boat in the heart of a storm", adding: "I have things to say to the French people, I have proposals to make to them."

Former Socialist leader Francois Hollande has a comfortable lead in opinion polls [Reuters]

The French president has been operating on a de facto campaign schedule of television appearances and twice-weekly regional tours for months now, but had yet to officially confirm his candidacy.

Opinion polls consistently forecast that Sarkozy will be beaten by Hollande in a runoff on May 6, but the president's
camp is clinging to hope that he can rekindle the energy that brought him to office in 2007.

Sarkozy's programme combined the most modern tactics - he launched a Twitter account on Wednesday - and the most traditional - he was due to visit a provincial cheese factory in the Alps on Thursday.

After Thursday's trip to the Annecy cheese plant, he will hold a large set-piece rally in the southern port city of Marseille on Sunday.

The French left has not won a presidential election since 1988, but Hollande has a comfortable lead in opinion polls.

The latest survey published on Wednesday by Harris Interactive for the news magazine VSD forecast that Hollande would win the first round with 28 per cent to Sarkozy's 24 then sweep the run-off with 57 per cent to 43.

In this poll the only other candidate within reach of the second round would be far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen on 20 per cent, but most observers now see the campaign as a two-man race.

Source: Agencies