April 22 - French presidential candidates cast their votes in the first round of the elections. Nick Rowlands reports.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy prepares to cast his vote in the first round of the presidential elections. Seeking a second term, the 57-year-old incumbent says he is a safe pair of hands in times of economic turmoil. But many workers and young voters are deserting him as jobless claims hit their highest level in 12 years, and others view him as flashy, rude, and too close to rich businessmen. The top two candidates will go to a May 6 runoff, and Sarkozy's main challenger is Socialist Francois Hollande, who opinion polls show as having a double-digit lead over the current president. Hollande promises less drastic spending cuts than Sarkozy, and wants higher taxes on the wealthy to fund state-aided job creation. He would become France's first left-wing president since Francois Mitterrand took power in 1981. Far-right leader Marine Le Pen cast her vote in a former coal-mining town, with polls showing her as third in the race. Hard-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon is the surprise of the elections so far. He has managed to unite the far left with his revolutionary rhetoric and ability to mobilize large crowds, and is challenging Le Pen for third place. Nick Rowlands, Reuters.