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Socialist presidential candidate to wrap up get-out-the-vote tour of French Caribbean

Socialist presidential candidate to wrap up get-out-the-vote tour of French Caribbean

French Socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal was to wrap up Sunday a four-day campaign swing through the France Caribbean, home to more than half a million potential voters whom she said could make a difference in key elections next April.
In France's last presidential race, in 2002, voter abstention in the islands of Guadeloupe and neighboring Martinique _ both former French colonies turned overseas departments _ reached about 65 percent. But Royal, who polls show running neck-and-neck with Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, the governing UMP party's candidate, hopes to get out _ and dominate _ the Caribbean vote this election cycle.
"I need you! Vote," exhorted Royal in a rally Saturday in the town of Les Abymes. About 1,500 supporters attended the meeting _ a far cry from the 2,000-4,000 that Royal's campaign managers had hoped to draw.
Still, her campaign officials said they expected Royal to come in first in round-one voting in the region, taking 45 percent in Guadeloupe and more than 55 percent in Martinique.
The Socialist candidate in the 2002 elections, Lionel Jospin, garnered only 23 percent of the vote in Guadeloupe and 29 percent in Martinique. Jospin, who came in third in first round voting, behind incumbent President Jacques Chirac and extreme-right firebrand Jean-Marie Le Pen, needed just 200,000 more votes nationwide to qualify for the second round.
The region's six-hour time difference with mainland France was widely blamed for the low turnout in 2002, as many Caribbean voters knew the winner before casting their ballots. This year, officials have advanced by a day the two-round voting in the French Caribbean, to April 21 and May 5.
Royal, a regional lawmaker who is bidding to become France's first woman president, pledged to break with the ruling conservatives' "neocolonial" and "paternalistic" attitude toward the country's overseas departments.
If elected, she said would be the "president of mixed-race France," and promised to "put an end to all the kinds of discrimination."
"Overseas departments are not peripheral, but a major issue for France," said Royal, adding that a challenge facing the country is to learn to be "proud of its diversity."
Royal's comments came hours after the Socialist Party expelled Saturday outspoken politician Georges Freche, whose remark that there are too many black players on France's national soccer team caused an uproar.
Royal, who spent part of her childhood in Martinique, where her military father was stationed from 1955 to 1964, said a few sentences in Creole, a French patois spoken in the region.
"I am a standing woman," she told supporters at the Les Abymes rally, invoking a Creole expression meaning she's a strong woman.