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Last Updated: Sunday, 6 May 2007, 12:38 GMT 13:38 UK
French voters bucking trends
By Henri Astier
BBC News, Montmartre, Paris

Long queues are a rare sight on Sunday morning in Montmartre, a bohemian district of Paris.

John Berrebi, 45, stage actor
Voter John Berrebi rejects Mr Sarkozy as being US-orientated

But early on election day, people were flocking to the area's polling stations to choose the country's new president.

"Turnout has been exceptional," says polling officer Nathalie, 46, who would not give her full name.

"We had 87% during the first round and we're doing equally well, if not better, today."

John Berrebi, a 45-year-old stage actor, is among those who woke up early to cast his vote - which is going to socialist candidate Segolene Royal.

"I don't want [centre-right leader Nicolas] Sarkozy, his social ideal is America. That doesn't suit me. France is not a violent society like the US."

Mr Berrebi is not alone in voting out of hostility towards the tough former interior minister.

Patricia Sterling, 54, says she is voting Ms Royal "by default".

"Sarkozy speaks well - but his unspoken message is frightening. His ideas are racist."

Credibility issue

According to Collin Thierry, 35, a cinema projectionist, "Segolene's policies are much more tolerant and humane than Sarkozy's."

Polling-station in Montmartre, Paris
Turnout is high across France

Mr Thierry objected to Mr Sarkozy's "brutal" decisions, such as the expulsion of illegal immigrants and the closure of the Sangatte camp for immigrants in northern France.

Mr Sarkozy, he says, is "a sleek version" of far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.

But the centre-right candidate does have his supporters in Montmartre - both among older residents and the young professionals contributing to the rapid gentrification on the area.

"He has credibility and you can trust him," two women pensioners say. "He does not change his opinion all the time the way Segolene Royal does."

Florence, a 30-year-old mother and human resources worker, says: "Sarkozy's programme is coherent and his policies are properly costed. He wants to make people responsible for their own lives."

"I agree with most of his proposals," says Stephane, 31, an engineer. "He is strong on the economy and on law and order."

Radical change?

One of the reasons for the high turnout is the sharp contrast in the basic values embodied by the two candidates - continuity v change.

Felicien Boncenne, 27, who works for a sports website
It's about time we had a woman president
Felicien Boncenne, 27, voter

But there is an interesting twist in this poll. Traditionally left-wingers in France have tended to demand radical reform, while most right-wing voters have favoured the status quo.

Now these positions are largely reversed. Many voters are choosing Segolene because she has pledged not to force root-and-branch reforms.

"I want things to change, but not too fast," says Kathy Sylla, 20. "And that is why I am voting for Segolene. Sarkozy is too radical."

Conversely, this willingness to shake things up is precisely what attracts many to Sarkozy.

"He stands for reform against conservatism," says James Lellouche, 37, a manager.

"He will take on public sector workers whose jobs are secure whether or not they work, and who paralyse the country when their privileges are questioned."

Centre ground

Some voters - especially among those attracted to centrist ideas - find it difficult to choose between the two frontrunners.

Felicien Boncenne, 27, who works for a sports website, was turned off by the campaigns they both ran.

"The way they used advertising techniques and drafted in entertainment stars bothered me," he says.

In the end, however, Mr Boncenne cast his vote for Ms Royal - reflecting the choice of a plurality of voters in Montmartre.

"Sarkozy is too close to big money," he explains. "And it's about time we had a woman president."

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