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France: Hollande wins Round 1

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France: Hollande wins Round 1

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Paris (CNN) — Socialist candidate Francois Hollande declared victory Sunday in the first round of France’s presidential election, setting up a showdown with incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy in May.
The proclamation, made to a crowd of supporters, is consistent with early results Sunday night from France’s interior ministry as well as exit polls detailed on French television.
With about 48% of votes counted as of 10 p.m. (4 p.m. ET), Hollande had roughly 32% support, followed by Sarkozy at 26%. Extreme right candidate Marine Le Pen had 17% of this early vote, Jean-Luc Melenchon on the extreme left had 10%, and centrist Francois Bayrou had 9%.
That order is consistent with exit polls that showed Hollande finishing with 28.4% of the vote, Sarkozy at 25.5% and Le Pen at 20%.
“I want to thank warmly the voters who, through their votes, have placed me in this position,” Hollande told supporters in Paris on Sunday night. “This is an act of trust of confidence in my (positions) that I have presented to the French people.”
The figures set the stage for a May 6 runoff between Hollande and Sarkozy. Under French law, if no candidate wins an absolute majority, the two top candidates faceoff.
The results appeared to be bad news for Sarkozy. Historically, the French president comes in first in the first round of the vote.
In his own speech Sunday night in the capital, Sarkozy thanked citizens for voting in what he called “a time of crisis” — saying “I know (their) worries, and I understand them.”
He proposed three debates over the next two weeks, focused on the economy, social issues and international questions.
“The French people have the right to truth and clarity,” said Sarkozy, who has led his nation since 2007. “Everyone will be able to make their choice with full knowledge.”
The turnout was 81%, with more than 12.5 million votes cast, according to the Interior Ministry. That marks a drop from 2007, when 84% of the nation’s voters went to the polls, though Hollande still called the level of participation “rare” and cast it as showing citizens’ hands-on interest in the race.
Even as France has played key roles in international hot-spots in places like Libya and Syria, not to mention during the pan-European debt crisis, the domestic economy has been a prime focus of the election. France is struggling in the face of low economic growth and a 10% unemployment rate.