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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 May 2007, 21:59 GMT 22:59 UK
French rivals hold final rallies
Nicolas Sarkozy and Segolene Royal
Some 90% of voters are thought to have already made up their minds
The two candidates in France's presidential election have held their final campaign rallies before Sunday's run-off vote.

The rallies, at opposition ends of the country, attracted thousands of people.

Conservative Nicolas Sarkozy, in the southern city of Montpellier, promised to unify the nation, re-invigorate the economy and restore full employment.

Socialist Segolene Royal, in the northern city of Lille, called for help to build a new France.

Frontrunner Mr Sarkozy, from the ruling UMP party, addressed about 15,000 supporters who braved driving rain and storms to attend his rally in Montpellier.

He spoke of his love for France, saying he had come to think of the country almost as a person.

He appealed for help to "create the conditions for a French rebirth", saying the nation had two days for "a new energy to rise out of the country's depths".

Mr Sarkozy, 52, also addressed his most controversial previous statements, saying he did not regret using the word "rabble" to describe delinquents from Paris' poorest suburbs, nor did he regret speaking about cleaning housing estates "with a pressure hose".

Did the televised debate sway many French voters?

Ms Royal, 53, was greeted by 25,000 supporters under sunny skies in France's traditional socialist heartland of Lille.

She urged voters to make the "audacious choice" to elect her France's first woman president.

She too called for a French rebirth, but said she offered a safe choice for those wanting "a protecting France, a fraternal France, a competitive France".

"We do not want to appeal to people's dark side, but to the light and hope inside them," she said.

But these rallies may not make much difference, says the BBC's Caroline Wyatt in Montpellier, because 90% of voters have already made up their minds.

Race to the centre

Both candidates claimed victory in a fiery TV debate on Wednesday evening, their only face-off ahead of Sunday's run-off election.

They clashed over employment, the economy and law and order.

The debate was watched by an estimated 23 million people, about half of the electorate, but neither candidate was thought to have landed a decisive blow, analysts say.

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 Sarkozy and Ms Royal are vying for votes from the 18% of voters who backed centrist Francois Bayrou in the first round of the election.

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."

He said the conservative candidate "could further rip France's social fabric apart", but did not say whether he would back the socialist challenger or abstain.

Mr Sarkozy won 31.2% of the votes and Ms Royal won 25.9% in the first round of the election on 22 April.

Opinion poll tracker

Sarkozy and Royal make their final calls for votes

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