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French election campaigning closes

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Campaigning has ended in France, ahead of Sunday's presidential runoff vote which could see Nicolas Sarkozy fall from power.

While Sarkozy and his rival, socialist Francois Hollande, appeared at low-key gatherings elsewhere in the country, the left-wing leader Jean-Luc Melenchon rallied his voters against the incumbent in the capital on Friday.
 
"Get lost, Sarkozy", thousands of people chanted in Stalingrad Square in Paris.

"It doesn't pay to behave like a big fascist," Melenchon told the flag-waving crowds, referring to Sarkozy's pledges to halve immigration if he is re-elected.
 
Melenchon fell out of the presidential race after coming in fourth, with 11 per cent of votes, in the first round last month, and has since endorsed Hollande.

Tight race

Hollande garnered 29 per cent of the votes over Sarkozy's 27 per cent, and recent polls have put the socialist as the frontrunner in the final round.  

"If we put our ballots in the box we'll get rid of two in one, Nicolas Sarkozy and Marine Le Pen," Melenchon said, referring to the right-wing candidate who came third in the first round.

Raquel Garrido, a spokesperson for Melenchon's Left Party, said Friday's rally was crucial to mobilise his supporters to vote for Hollande.

"We cannot take for granted that Hollande will win," she said. "A large part of those here tonight will vote for him because they like Melenchon and they follow his lead, but the remaining part has to be convinced."
 
Melenchon voter Sylvain Renard said Hollande would get his vote on Sunday.
 
"I will vote for Hollande to get rid of Sarkozy," he said. "Hollande may not implement the policies that I would like, but he can bring the conditions that we need for political change, in particular to redistribute wealth between rich and poor."
 
Elsewhere in the capital, there were not many signs that an election battle was ongoing, except some scattered campaign posters.

Around the railway station of Montparnasse, someone has used a black marker to write "fini" [finished], over Sarkozy's face.
 
Jean-Marie Billon, a Paris-based voter, did not hesitate for a moment to say who he would be voting for.

"I’ve been waiting for this moment for five years," he said, referring to when Sarkozy was first elected in 2007. "We’ve had four years of crisis, but the crisis is not responsible for the terrible outcomes of Sarkozy’s presidency.

"If we raised their taxes just a little bit, the very rich would still be able to live well. In France there are people who work but have to live on the street because they can’t get by."

Meanwhile, Sarkozy made a last-minute push to boost his voter base in the seaside town of Sables d'Olonne.

"On Sunday, the outcome will be on a razor's edge," he said, lashing out at critics of his drift to the right.
 
"The French people has never been so injured, hounded and manipulated as in recent weeks ... The silent majority should not have to put up with insults, intolerance and lack of respect."

But some voters were still undecided.
 
"I voted for [centrist Francois] Bayrou in the first round, and now I’m really don't know," Sabine, who did not want to give her second name, said.

"I think Sarkozy is more competent. He’d be able to get France out of the crisis. But I'll decide when I stand in front of the ballot box."

Christian Makarian, the editor of the L'Express magazine, said that it would be "a miracle" if Sarkozy won the polls, but that if he did, it would hinge on the behaviour of far-right voters.


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