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Socialist chief in presidency race

The resurgent French left, riding on popular anger at Nicolas Sarkozy and global financial markets, has endorsed former Socialist Party chief Francois Hollande as its candidate for next year's presidential elections.

Voter worries about high unemployment, spending cuts and what to do about high state debt formed the backdrop for Sunday's Socialist Party primary and are likely to dominate the overall presidential campaign.

Mr Hollande, a 57-year-old legislator and moderate left-winger, is a low-key consensus builder who says his main selling point is that he is not the attention-grabbing Mr Sarkozy. Mr Hollande was the long-time partner of the Socialists' last presidential candidate, Segolene Royal.

He has no grand proposals for solving the euro debt crisis, which is costing France billions and unsettling world markets, or for awakening growth in the world's fifth-largest economy or solving tensions with immigrants.

And he is little known outside France, a potential handicap for someone who wants to run a nuclear-armed nation and diplomatic power.

President Sarkozy's conservatives swiftly criticised his victory as shallow, yet opinion polls suggest Mr Hollande could easily unseat Mr Sarkozy, who is widely expected to seek a second five-year term in elections in April and May.

Leftist voters see Mr Hollande as their most electable candidate, as they hunger for the Socialists' first presidential victory since 1988.

With 2.3 million votes counted after Sunday's run-off voting, the Socialist Party said 56% of the ballots were for Mr Hollande and 44% for his challenger Martine Aubry, author of France's 35-hour work week law.

The party estimates that more than 2.7 million people voted in the run-off, open to any voters who declare loyalty to left-wing values.

Early this year, the Socialists' best hope for toppling Mr Sarkozy was Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who led the International Monetary Fund until he was jailed in May in the United States, accused of trying to rape a New York hotel maid. Prosecutors later dropped the case, but Mr Strauss-Kahn's reputation and presidential ambitions crashed.


From Belfast Telegraph