Sarkozy, Royal Face Runoff in France

Conservative Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist Segolene Royal have advanced to a May 6 runoff in France's presidential elections. With most of the votes counted, Sarkozy took in more than 31 percent, with Segolene second at just under 26 percent.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

France held a significant election over the weekend, as shown by turnout of 85 percent. Of many presidential candidates, two made a run-off: conservative Nicolas Sarkozy and socialist Segolene Royal.

Eleanor Beardsley reports.

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: Segolene Royal's supporters exploded in joy Sunday evening as they learned their candidate had made it to the second round. Royal came in second behind Nicolas Sarkozy. Jean Delanois(ph) was one of the thousands of Segolene fans who crowded the street in front of Socialist Party headquarters in Paris to watch the returns on a giant screen.

Mr. JEAN DELANOIS (Royal Supporter): I feel good because I'm for Segolene Royal. And I think her score is very good, and she has real chances to win.

BEARDSLEY: Nicolas Sarkozy was the day's biggest winner with nearly 31 percent of the vote - a record first round score. Royal had nearly 26 percent. Over at campaign headquarters of centrist candidate Francois Bayrou, there was palpable disappointment that their candidate didn't make it to the second round. But in third place, with nearly 19 percent of the vote, Bayrou is now in a position to play kingmaker. Analysts say Bayrou's voters will be key in deciding the presidential race. Although the Bayrou supporters watching Sarkozy speak last night didn't look like big fans of his.

Mr. NICOLAS SARKOZY (Presidential Candidate, France): (Speaking French)

(Soundbite of crowd booing)

BEARDSLEY: In his speech, Sarkozy explained why centrist Bayrou didn't make it to the second round.

Mr. SARKOZY: (Through translator) By putting Madame Royal and me in the finals, voters have clearly shown they want to go head-to-head in this debate about two different ideas of France, two value systems, and two plans for the future of our society.

BEARDSLEY: Sarkozy's effective campaign machine and well-honed messages may be impressive, but his tough-guy reputation also scares many people. Christophe Barbier, editor of L'Express magazine, says that fear factor may now undermine Sarkozy's candidacy.

Mr. CHRISTOPHE BARBIER (Editor, L'Express magazine): (Through translator) Nicolas Sarkozy seems to have a comfortable advance after the first round, but nothing is in the bag, because Segolene Royal has a hidden gun, and that's the Anyone-but-Sarkozy vote.

BEARDSLEY: As she addressed her supporters, Royal already seemed to be playing to those fears.

Ms. SEGOLENE ROYAL (Presidential Candidate, France): (Through translator) Tonight I call on all of you who think that we can reform France without brutality, those who believe in the triumph of human values over stock values, and want to put an end to the inequalities that have painfully deepened over the last years.

BEARDSLEY: Politics aside, this year's French presidential election has been hailed as a change in style and generation. The top three contenders were in their early 50s, and it is the first time France will elect a president born after World War II. Perhaps that's why it generated so much excitement and a massive voter turnout that hasn't been seen since Charles de Gaulle was elected president in 1965.

For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.

INSKEEP: And again, another historic political figure, Boris Yeltsin of Russia has died at the age of 76. You're listening to NPR News.

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A Look at France's Top Presidential Contenders

The French went to the polls Sunday to vote in the first round of the country's presidential election. Twelve candidates were on the ballot, but only the top two — Nicolas Sarkozy and Segolene Royal — made it through to the final runoff on May 6. Here, brief profiles of the four leading candidates, in order of their standing in pre-election polls:

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