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French far-right hurts Hollande's socialists in local elections

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French far-right hurts Hollande's socialists in local elections

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In France, the far-right National Front of Marine Le Pen appeared to make big gains in the first round of local elections on Sunday. Exit polls put the anti-immigrant party first in several key towns with Le Pen hailing the result as a breakthrough.

The vote, the first electoral test since President François Hollande’s took power, was very much about damage limitation for the ruling Socialists. Dogged by a leader with record low approval ratings and a sluggish economy, many in the party were braced for a night of pain.

Like the National Front, early indications also predicted a good night for France’s more moderate conservative opposition led by Jean-Francois Cope. One poll gave the centre-right UMP party around 48 percent of the vote.

Deeply unpopular since taking the presidency two year’s ago the Socialists poor performance appeared to be compounded by a low turnout, though there was some solace in Paris where their candidate was well ahead of the conservatives. The second round vote is next Sunday.