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France Wraps Up Last Day Of Campaigning Ahead Of Sunday Vote

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The 10 candidates seeking the French presidency have held their last day of campaigning ahead of Sunday’s first round of voting that President Nicolas Sarkozy is expected to lose.

Several new polls out Friday indicate that President Sarkozy is trailing his main rival, Socialist Francois Hollande, by several points. Polls also show that Mr. Sarkozy will lose in an expected runoff May 6, which would make him the country’s first one-term president in over 30 years. Another concern for both candidates is the widespread expectation of low voter turnout.

On Friday, Mr. Sarkozy apologized for his actions in the early days of his five-year term. He said his mistake was “not understanding the symbolic dimension of the president’s role.” He told a radio interviewer it was a mistake he would not make again, saying, “Now I know the job.”

The conservative Mr. Sarkozy, however, defended his role in curbing French spending to help resolve the European governmental debt crisis. He said France would face more difficulties like debt-ridden Spain if it changes course.

“The minute we relax pressure on spending cuts, on deficit cuts and cuts in indebtedness, France will suffer the same fate as Spain.”

Mr. Sarkozy also headed to the southern city of Nice for a final rally.

Hollande blamed Mr. Sarkozy for France’s unemployment rate of nearly 10 percent and called for sweeping changes to improve France’s public finances.

“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 decentralization policy, a reform of justice to make it independent.”

As cheering crowds greeted him at one campaign stop, Hollande called for an “irreversible” vote against Mr. Sarkozy.

“What is at stake this Sunday, is to give me the necessary strength to challenge the ‘departing candidate’ in the second round. What is at stake this Sunday, is to make this victory an irresistible and irreversible one starting on April 22nd. So we don’t have to wait 15 more days; no, we have to create this motion, this dynamic right away.”

If Hollande ultimately wins the elections, he would become France’s first Socialist president in 17 years.

Under French law, the media are barred from announcing early or partial results before the polling stations close Sunday evening . President Sarkozy has said in interviews that the rule is outdated. The law does not affect foreign-based media and the information is expected to be widely available on Twitter and Facebook well before the official results are announced at about 8 p.m. local time.

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