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Candidates stage last rallies as France campaign wraps up

20 Apr 2012 7:00 PM | Anonymous member
Presidential rivals Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande staged final rallies at opposite ends of France on Friday, the last day of campaigning before Sunday's first-round vote. Trailing in the polls, Sarkozy told thousands of supporters gathered in the southern city of Nice that each vote would count in his last-ditch effort to defeat Socialist frontrunner Hollande. "Go all of you Sunday to cast your ballots, because each ballot will build our victory, because we need everybody," Sarkozy told the crowd. "The forces arrayed against us are so great that only the French people can say 'Here is the choice we are making, the choice for a strong France'." Hollande held his rally in Charleville-Mezieres in the Champagne-Ardennes region of northeastern France, which has voted for the right in the recent past despite being a poor industrial belt. "Don't lower your guard, be vigilant. Make sure that we turn up in numbers on Sunday. Convince the undecided," he told the banner-waving crowd. And he honoured the town's best known son, 19th-century poet Arthur Rimbaud, citing his 1874 poem "the Blacksmith": "We once took part in this great moving dream." Hollande's first campaign slogan was "Re-enchant the French dream." Earlier he roamed the streets of the town of Vitry-le-Francois, shaking hands, signing autographs and posing for photos in front of a cafe. The region voted for Sarkozy in the 2007 presidential election, and Hollande said he was there to take the measure of its disappointment. "I've come to this region that placed its trust in Nicolas Sarkozy," he said. "He even came to the Ardennes to make a speech about workers, jobs, industry. Everyone can see how great the disappointment is." Meanwhile, Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front, running in third place according to polls, campaigned at a milk farm in the northwestern region of Brittany, where she hit on her theme of traditional values. Lashing out at policies that she said are emptying the French countryside, Le Pen said: "I want to end this death spiral. I want to make it possible ... for people to live and work in the place where they were born." She told journalists she was proud of her campaign and said there was a "credible" chance she could make it to the second round. Asked if she would endorse another candidate if she does not make it, Le Pen said she would make a statement on May 1 but her supporters "will do what they want." Jean-Luc Melenchon of the Left Front ended the campaign as he began it after being chosen as the Communist-backed contender last year -- in a factory. Greeted by union representatives chanting "Resistance!" at a glass factory in the town of Bagneaux-sur-Loing, Melenchon said he wanted to be "close to the workers" for the last day of the campaign. "I am looping the loop -- my last outing is beside the workers, the thousands who are fighting ... the millions who until now were invisible in our society," Melenchon said. "He is the only one to support us and to come here. I know who I will be voting for now," said one the workers, Denis Bruno. With campaigning banned after midnight Friday, the candidates were to spend Saturday with their families and supporters. burs-mm/dc/gd © 2012 AFP
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