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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 May 2007, 11:45 GMT 12:45 UK
French rivals dispute TV honours
Wednesday's TV debate between Segolene Royala and Nicolas Sarlozy
Neither candidate delivered a knock-out blow

Both French presidential candidates have claimed victory in Wednesday's at-times fiery televised debate ahead of Sunday's second election round.

Conservative frontrunner Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist Segolene Royal clashed over employment, the economy, the environment and law and order.

Centrist leader Francois Bayrou has said he will not vote for Mr Sarkozy, without saying how he will vote.

The two candidates will hold their final rallies on Thursday evening.

Ms Royal will be in Lille, northern France, while Mr Sarkozy will finish off in Montpellier, in the south of the country.

I was a bit astonished at times by a certain aggressiveness in Madame Royal
Nicolas Sarkozy
You can never go too much on the offensive when it comes to defending convictions and values
Segolene Royal

Wednesday's debate was watched by an estimated 20 million people, about half of the electorate, but neither candidate was thought to have landed a decisive blow, analysts say.

"I don't think either managed to convince the other camp. Both spoke to their own electorate," said Anita Hausser, political commentator for LCI TV.

According to an opinion poll published on Thursday, 53% of voters found Mr Sarkozy more convincing than Ms Royal who scored 31%.

The Opinionway poll, which was conducted after the debate on Wednesday night, was based on the views of some 900 internet users who watched it.

Mr Bayrou, who has been strongly critical of Mr Sarkozy, said in an interview with Le Monde newspaper following Wednesday's debate: "I will not vote for Sarkozy."

Did the televised debate sway many French voters?

He added that the conservative candidate "could further rip France's social fabric apart", but that he thought Ms Royal had "done rather well" in the debate.

He did not say whether he would back the socialist challenger or abstain, adding he would be unlikely to make a statement before the second round.

Last week, Mr Bayrou said at a press conference he could not back either candidate as their current policies would not be good for the country.

Mr Sarkozy and Ms Royal were vying for votes from the 18% of voters who backed Mr Bayrou - who came third in the first round held on 22 April - as well as those who supported far-right nationalist Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Heated debate

Mr Sarkozy has said he thought the debate was dignified, though he found Ms Royal too combative.

"I was a bit astonished at times by a certain aggressiveness in Madame Royal," he told French radio.

Ms Royal, who during the debate accused Mr Sarkozy of "political immorality", defended her tough style.

"You can never go too much on the offensive when it comes to defending convictions and values," she said.

It was temperament rather than trousers that were swapped

During the debate, Ms Royal criticised Mr Sarkozy's record in government, particularly on crime and security - Mr Sarkozy's traditional forte.

"In 2002, Mr Sarkozy, you talked about zero tolerance, but today you can see that the French are very worried about the rise in violence and aggression in French society," she said.

The former interior minister defended himself, saying the figures showed violent crime had fallen.

The most heated exchange came during the second half of the debate as the contenders discussed school places for children with disabilities.

Ms Royal accused Mr Sarkozy of "political immorality" for dismantling socialist measures on the issue.

Mr Sarkozy attacked his opponent for losing her temper - a criticism often levelled at Mr Sarkozy himself.

The rivals also debated public sector reform and clashed over employment. Mr Sarkozy said the 35-hour week, which was brought in by the socialists, had been a disaster for the economy. He said France needed to work more.

He also criticised Ms Royal's pension policy as vague.

Mr Sarkozy won 31.2% of the votes and Ms Royal won 25.9% in the first round of the election.

Opinion poll tracker

Who do you think won the debate?
Segolene Royal
Nicolas Sarkozy
15174 Votes Cast
Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion
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