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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 October 2006, 21:55 GMT 22:55 UK
France's Socialists in TV debate
From left, Segolene Royal, Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Laurent Fabius
From left, Royal, Strauss-Kahn and Fabius air their views
Three candidates vying for the French Socialist Party's nomination in next year's presidential election have gone on TV to debate their policies.

Former Environment Minister Segolene Royal, the front-runner, faced ex-Finance Minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn and ex-PM Laurent Fabius.

Tuesday's televised debate was the first of three between the contenders.

The Socialists' candidate, to be chosen in November, is likely to face current Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy.

Mr Sarkozy is the leader of the conservative UMP party.

Large lead

As well as the three debates broadcast on television, the contenders are expected to take part in three public debates.

If there are too many debates... I reserve the right not to take part in them
Segolene Royal

The BBC's Emma Jane Kirby in Paris says there were few sparks in Tuesday's two-hour debate.

Filmed in a cable TV studio without an audience, there was no opportunity for the rivals to interrupt each other as they answered questions on the economy sent in by Socialist party members.

Ms Royal, who is enjoying a 39% lead over her Socialist opponents, spoke largely about the need for France to rejuvenate its economy and to invest in new technology and research.

Mr Strauss-Kahn called for new talks between business and unions and for a reduction of France's debt.

Mr Fabius attacked France's "inequality and injustice" and "global financial hyper-capitalism".

Critics accuse Ms Royal of being a political lightweight who is rich on style but poor on ideas, our correspondent says, but she proved she could hold her own against the Socialist old guard.

Weeks were spent agreeing a format for the debates, with Mr Strauss-Kahn and Mr Fabius arguing for lengthy confrontations on TV, and Ms Royal pushing for the encounters to be less aggressive and more low-key.

Ms Royal had warned that too many debates could damage the party by making it appear divided in the eyes of the electorate.

"If there are too many debates... I reserve the right not to take part in them. I will go if necessary," the Reuters news agency quotes her as saying.

Europe diary: Royal progress
06 Oct 06 |  Europe
France looks to Sarko-Sego race
11 Apr 06 |  Europe
Profile: Segolene Royal
18 Jan 06 |  Europe

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