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French presidential election heads into final week with Sarkozy leading in polls

Front-runner Nicolas Sarkozy was preparing for a last big Paris rally while Socialist rival Segolene Royal visited a state support service for the homeless as France's presidential election headed into its final week on Sunday.
Sarkozy, a pro-American conservative and former interior minister, was holding a five-point lead over Royal, who would become France's first woman president, in the latest poll. He has led in nearly every poll this year. The election finale takes place May 6.
Royal, after visiting a homelessness services office south of Paris, and Sarkozy were each expected to make brief appearances on Canal Plus TV on Sunday.
Supporters of Sarkozy, meanwhile, were headed to Bercy stadium in eastern Paris for a rally expected to draw thousands of supporters.
Sarkozy has been looking to regain the limelight after Royal's debate Saturday with centrist former candidate Francois Bayrou, who was a strong third in the April 22 first round. Bayrou didn't endorse her _ nor did she ask for him to _ but they spoke cordially about their similarities and differences. The 6.8 million voters who cast ballots for Bayrou in the primary have become pivotal to Royal's hopes of beating Sarkozy.
Sarkozy has lashed out at Royal and Bayrou over the unprecedented debate between the No. 2 and No. 3 vote-getters in the first round, and in an interview published Sunday, said their face-off fostered "confusion."
"Let's return to Earth! Francois Bayrou didn't qualify for the second round," Sarkozy was quoted as saying in an interview published in Journal du Dimanche weekly.
Some far-left supporters of Royal criticized her for reaching across the political divide and meeting with Bayrou, who served in a conservative Cabinet in the early 1990s, along with Sarkozy.
Several lawmakers from Bayrou's party have endorsed Sarkozy.
One political analyst said Royal needed to take a chance on the debate with Bayrou as a way to gain new momentum _ and she may have succeeded.
"In my opinion, people are going to be talking about this event for the next four or five days," said Dominique Reynie, of the elite Institute of Political Sciences in Paris.
"Despite it all, she has the upper hand at the moment," said Reynie, who two weeks ago said Royal appeared to be losing. "My view today is she's the one who's rather transcending herself, and he (Sarkozy) is looking for the best way to express his ideas."
A poll released Sunday by the Ipsos agency put support for Sarkozy at 52.5 percent and Royal at 47.5 percent. The poll of 1,367 registered voters was conducted Thursday, Friday and Saturday. No margin of error was given.
The French are eager for change and looking for improved economic fortunes after 12 years under President Jacques Chirac. The 84-percent turnout for the first round was the highest of its kind in decades.

Updated : 2021-10-23 14:03 GMT+08:00