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Europe
France election campaign enters final day
Rallies being held a day before voters choose new president, with Sarkozy and Hollande running neck and neck.
Last Modified: 20 Apr 2012 19:46
Hollande has urged supporters to give him a clear lead over incumbent Sarkozy in the first round [Reuters]

French presidential candidates are campaigning for the last day before voters go to the polls on Sunday.

No campaigning is allowed the day before the election, but on Friday both Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President and his Socialist rival Francois Hollande clashed over the euro crisis in the final exchanges.

In separate radio interviews on Friday, President Sarkozy said he had helped steer the euro zone through the worst of its debt crisis, making him the safest pair of hands, while Hollande blamed him for mismanaging France's strained public finances.

Speaking at a final rally in Bordeaux on Thursday, the frontrunner, Hollande, said that he was seeking great change in France.

Meanwhile in the southern city of Nice, Sarkozy delivered a speech as part of his final campaign bid on Friday evening.

Sarkozy told thousands of supporters each vote would count in his last-ditch effort to defeat Socialist frontrunner Hollande.

"Go all of you Sunday to cast your ballots, because each ballot will build our victory, because we need everybody," Sarkozy said.
 
"The forces arrayed against us are so great that only the French people can say 'Here is the choice we are making, the choice for a strong France'," he said. 

Polls show the two men neck and neck, but Hollande is expected to win the  run-off vote on May 6.


Al Jazeera's Jacky Rowland reports from Marseille on why immigration is a major issue in the election

The far-right candidate, Marine le Pen, could take around 17 per cent of the vote, while Jean-Luc Melenchon, a leftwing candidate, has come from behind to see poll ratings at 14 per cent.

The Centrist Francois Bayrou is likely to come in fifth place.

However, the latest polls suggest nearly one in four French voters have yet made up their minds before the vote.

Speaking at the Bordeaux rally, Hollande said: "I want to profoundly reform my country: engage in a tax reform for justice, a reform of the banks to dominate the finance world, a territorial reform to create a new decentralisation policy, a reform of justice to make it independent."

Hollande urged supporters to vote for him in the first round to give the Socialist Party a clear lead over his main opponent, Sarkozy, whom he referred to as "the departing candidate".

Meanwhile, in Paris, an estimated crowd of 60,000 gathered in support of Melenchon, who attacked the EU's austerity measures, which he considers dangerous and socially unfair.

Spotlight coverage of France's 2012 presidential elections

"By kicking Sarkozy out, not only will we get rid of a man who made our lives miserable, not only will we feel happier and will we improve our conditions of life, but more than anything else, we will break in the old continent, the Merk-ozy [Angela Merkel and Sarkozy] axis, the heart of Europe's austerity plan that has strangled our people."

While Melenchon is unlikely to make it to the election's second round, he has managed to gather around him numerous left-wing movements that were shattered before.

Campaigning has focused on the economy, with Sarkozy boasting of good economic growth in 2011 but struggling with unemployment at 10 per cent.

The candidates have clashed over how to alleviate voter fears over the European debt crisis, with Sarkozy stressing austerity and Hollande pushing to stimulate growth.

Hollande and Sarkozy both have promised to balance the budget, but Hollande has emphasised his focus on growth rather than austerity.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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