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Nicolas Sarkozy pulls out of the race to lead France

By Lucy Pasha-Robinson

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy has conceded defeat in the race to choose the conservative nominee for next year's French presidential election.

Former prime ministers Francois Fillon and Alain Juppe both outpolled Mr Sarkozy in early returns and stand to advance to the November 27 run-off.

In a speech from his campaign headquarters in Paris yesterday, Mr Sarkozy called on his supporters to vote for Mr Fillon in the second round.

With more than 3.2 million votes counted of an estimated total of more than five million, Mr Fillon had 44%, Mr Juppe 28.1% and Mr Sarkozy 21.1%.

Fillon has enjoyed a strong boost in popularity in recent weeks thanks to his image of authority and seriousness compared to Sarkozy's more brazen demeanour.

French conservatives have been voting to choose their presidential nominee to face National Front leader Marine Le Pen in the May election.

Earlier, polls were suggesting Ms Le Pen (above) had taken a commanding lead. The far-right leader had 29% of the vote, eight points ahead of Mr Sarkozy in the poll released by Ipsos.

Meanwhile, Angela Merkel, who has steered Germany through several global crises as its first woman leader, says she will seek a fourth term as chancellor in general elections next year.

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