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French Socialists vote for nominee

France's Socialists and sympathisers are choosing their nominee for next year's presidential election - an expected showdown with embattled conservative president Nicolas Sarkozy.

The main opposition party is holding a run-off to choose its standard-bearer as many French people worry about high state debt, cuts to education spending, anaemic economic growth and lingering unemployment.

The contest pits current party boss Martine Aubry against her predecessor, Francois Hollande. He is the former partner of the Socialists' last presidential nominee, Segolene Royal. Ms Aubry is best known as the author of France's fabled 35-hour work week law passed in the late 1990s.

Ms Aubry and Mr Hollande were the survivors as the six-person Socialist field was whittled down last week in the first phase of the unprecedented party primary in which more than two million people cast ballots.

Starting with Charles de Gaulle in 1958, France has had a string of conservative presidents over the past half-century, but only one Socialist: Francois Mitterrand.

The party's primary this year has been designed in part to help overcome years of dissension within its ranks. The primary is open to voters beyond those in the Socialist Party, though some conditions apply.

Mr Hollande, the top vote-getter in the first round, has since received expressions of support from the other four candidates who lost out last Sunday - a tacit sign that a Socialist victory is their highest priority.

Both Ms Aubry and Mr Hollande say trimming state debt is a priority, but have kept to Socialist Party dogma on issues such as shielding citizens from the whims of the financial markets and raising taxes on the rich.

Mr Hollande, seen as a party moderate who favours greater integration with Europe, is little-known outside France and has provided no dramatic proposals for saving the euro, shrinking debts, solving tensions with immigrants or other French woes.

Ms Aubry has repeated her hopes for "a strong left" to face Mr Sarkozy - seen by many as a jab at Mr Hollande - and insisted she would unite ideological allies such as Green Party supporters for the presidential race finale.

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