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Hollande elected French president

Socialist Francois Hollande has declared victory in France's presidential election, railing against austerity measures and urging national unity after a bitter campaign against Nicolas Sarkozy.

The mild-mannered Mr Hollande promised help for France's downtrodden after years under the tough-talking Mr Sarkozy, a man many voters blamed for economic troubles.

Mr Hollande says austerity should no longer be inevitable and said European partners should be relieved and not frightened by his presidency.

Mr Hollande told huge crowds of supporters in his electoral fiefdom of Tulle in central France that he was "proud to have been capable of giving people hope again. We will succeed!"

Mr Sarkozy conceded defeat minutes after the polls closed, saying he had called Mr Hollande to wish him "good luck" as the country's new leader.

Exuberant crowds filled the Place de la Bastille, the iconic plaza of the French Revolution, to celebrate Mr Hollande's victory. He will be France's first leftist chief of state since Francois Mitterrand was president from 1981 to 1995.

Mr Sarkozy thanked his supporters and said he did his best to win a second term, despite widespread anger at his handling of the economy. "I take responsibility ... for the defeat," he said.

Mr Hollande's former partner and mother of his four children, Segolene Royal, said she has a "feeling of profound joy to see millions and millions of French renew the tie to the left."

"The French can be confident," she said on France-2 television. "We will need everyone to help the country recover." Ms Royal faced off against Sarkozy in the 2007 election.

Partial official results, with about half of the nationwide votes counted, showed Mr Hollande with 50.8% compared to 49.2% for Mr Sarkozy. The CSA, TNS-Sofres and Ipsos polling agencies predicted that Mr Hollande will win with 51.8% to 53%, compared with 47% to 48.2% for Mr Sarkozy. They made projections based on the vote count at select voting stations around the country.

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