Votes cast for French president




Voters in France’s overseas territories have begun casting ballots for Nicolas Sarkozy or Francois Hollande in the presidential election.

The final polls show Mr Sarkozy making up ground on his Socialist challenger before Sunday’s election in France – but still suggest a Hollande victory.

Campaigning and the release of poll data have been suspended until the results of the run-off election come in Sunday evening.

Mr Sarkozy predicted a “surprise” and Mr Hollande urged voters to avoid complacency as the bitter campaign neared its climax, driven by fears about joblessness, immigration and France’s economic future.

Mr Hollande spent the weekend in Tulle, the town in central France where he has his electoral base as legislator and one-time mayor. Greeting shoppers in a market, he said he was “confident, but not sure” when asked about his chances of becoming France’s next president.

“We wait for Sunday, I speak only about Sunday. Monday is another day,” he said.

Mr Sarkozy was spending the day at home with his family in Paris.

Under a quirk of French electoral rules, balloting got under way today in France’s embassies and overseas holdings, starting in tiny Saint Pierre and Miquelon – islands south of Newfoundland in the North Atlantic Ocean.

The election’s outcome will impact on Europe’s efforts to fight its debt crisis, how long French troops stay in Afghanistan and how France exercises its military and diplomatic muscle around the world.

Mr Sarkozy, disliked by many voters for his handling of the economy, promised he could come out victorious on Sunday. Speaking on Europe-1 radio on Friday, he said much will depend on whether French voters bother to cast ballots in an election that polls have always predicted Mr Hollande would win.

But he also sounded increasingly philosophical and prepared for possible defeat.

Asked what he would do if he loses, Mr Sarkozy said simply “there will be a handover of power”.

“The nation follows its course. The nation is stronger than the destiny of the men who serve it,” he said. “The fact that the campaign is ending is more of a relief than a worry.”

Mr Hollande urged his followers against complacency. “Victory is within our grasp!” he said in a rousing rally in the southern city of Toulouse on Thursday night.

Polls released Thursday and Friday show the gap between the candidates shrinking but results still solidly in Mr Hollande’s favour.

The polls were carried out after the candidates’ only debate on Wednesday night, which Mr Sarkozy had hoped would be the knockout blow he needed.

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