Poll shows Sarkozy trims Hollande lead

Opinion poll conducted after Wednesday's debate shows French President Sarkozy making up ground against his challenger.

    A second opinion poll conducted after Wednesday's televised election debate in France has shown President Nicolas Sarkozy making up ground against Socialist front runner Francois Hollande, narrowing the gap to six points from 10.

    Two days from Sunday's runoff, the poll by Harris Interactive gave Hollande 53 per cent of the vote, down two
    points from late April, and Sarkozy 47 per cent, up two points.

    The survey found 31 per cent of respondents thought Hollande was more convincing, against 29 per cent for Sarkozy in the debate, watched by more than a third of the electorate.

    It was the third poll of the day to show Sarkozy inching towards his Socialist rival, whose lead will still be tough to overcome so close to the vote.

    Pollster CSA also gave Hollande 53 per cent to Sarkozy's 47 per cent, a two-point narrowing in their margin since April 26, and an OpinionWay poll conducted half before and half after the debate gave Hollande his smallest margin yet of five points.

    Final rally

    Around 40-thousand people gathered in the southern town of Toulouse on Thursday for the final campaign rally of Hollande.

    The Socialist leader told supporters that victory "is within a hand's reach, yours, the hand of each citizen who will cast his ballot".

    He appeared to solidify his chances at winning France's presidency after voters welcomed his strong showing in a debate against beleaguered incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy on Wednesday.

    The result of the runoff on Sunday will set the course for the next five years for France, a nuclear-armed country with a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

    It could reshape the debate in the 17-nation eurozone - which Sarkozy has helped guide along with Germany's Angela Merkel - on how best to resolve the European debt crisis amid sluggish growth across the continent.

    At Thursday's rally, Hollande emphasised the effect his victory could have on Europe, saying: "Never has a national vote been so important for the entire European continent. Everywhere they are waiting, hoping, watching."

    Hollande said he had encouraged others to think of more than just austerity cuts as a way to tackle the continent's financial problems.

    "We said we wanted to renegotiate the EU treaty and add growth to it, and then who knows what," he said.

    "As the polls were predicting our victory, minds started to open up, heads were enlightened and today there is not one responsible European not mentioning growth."

    One Hollande supporter compared the candidate to former French president and Socialist leader Francois Mitterrand, saying he was sure that "the left will win on Sunday".

    But another supporter was more cautious, saying that while he thought Hollande was on the path to victory, "it will be difficult, it will be a close one."

    Economic warning

    Sarkozy told supporters at his final election rally on Thursday night that he had stopped France from being engulfed by the economic crisis.

    The French President and conservative candidate, who has defended his record as better than others amid economic woes across Europe, said his government's reforms had stopped France from following the same path as countries like Greece, Portugal and Spain.

    "The crisis has made life harder for many of our fellow countrymen. The crisis has destroyed jobs, the crisis has torn lives apart, the crisis has created suffering," Sarkozy told a crowd of supporters in Toulon.

    "But thanks to the efforts of everyone, France has resisted. France wasn't engulfed by the crisis like a wisp of straw, like many other countries were," he added.

    Sarkozy said the economic policies of Hollande would send France's debt through the roof and hurt the rest of Europe.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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