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France votes in presidential runoff election

46 million voters choosing between Socialist challenger Francois Hollande and incumbent Nicolas SarkozyFrench voters are going to the polls in a presidential runoff that could see Socialist challenger Francois Hollande unseat incumbent Conservative Nicolas Sarkozy.

The country's 46 million voters are voting at polling stations from 06:00 GMT on Sunday, after a bruising campaign that has seen both men label the other as a liar.

The first polls opened in overseas territories on Saturday and the last polls were to close in France at 18:00 GMT on Sunday.

Political speeches and new opinion polls have been banned since campaigning officially ended on Friday night, with the last polls published before the deadline showing Hollande having a slight lead over the president.

Sarkozy has spent the last week energetically campaigning, in an effort to woo over voters of the National Front's Marine le Pen , a far-right nationalist who was knocked out in the first round of voting but refused to endorse either candidate's campaign.

With the gap between the candidates the narrowest since campaigning began, Sarkozy has vowed a surprise, while Hollande has cautioned against assuming he will be France's first Socialist president since Francois Mitterrand left office in 1995.

Voter turnout in the first round was high, at around 80 per cent according to official figures, and both run-off candidates have called on citizens to make their votes count.

Hollande, who has billed himself as a consensus builder, voted in his provincial political heartland Tulle in central France, while Sarkozy was voted in Paris' 16th arrondissement.

"It's going to be a long day," Hollande told reporters gathered to watch him vote. "It's up to the French people to decide if it's going to be a good day."

Sarkozy declined to comment to assembled television crews.

If he loses, Sarkozy will become the first French president since Valery Giscard d'Estaing in 1981 not to be re-elected for a second term.

Courting support

France has a strict ban on publishing result estimates until all polls close, but foreign media websites are expected to publish predictions before then.

Those found to be breaking the reporting restrictions will face a fine of 75,000 euros ($98,153).
Spotlight coverage of France's 2012 presidential elections

Hollande won the April 22 vote with 28.63 per cent of the votes to Sarkozy's 27.18 per cent, and both candidates have been fighting for the votes of those whose candidates failed to make the run-off.

Le Pen, who won almost 18 per cent in the first round, has said she will cast a blank ballot, and has called on her supporters to do the same.

Jean-Luc Melenchon , the Left Front's candidate, however, endorsed Hollande's candidacy and called on the 11 per cent of voters who backed him to vote to unseat Sarkozy. Francois Bayrou , the centrist candidate, has also backed Hollande.

Hollande will need a strong mandate if he is to implement his proposed programme to fight EU-driven austerity measures, while Sarkozy, who has been instrumental in formulating the EU's response to the debt crisis, has said that electing a Socialist would cause further market instability.

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