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France's far-right makes major gains in first election since shooting attacks

President Francois Hollande’s Socialist party has been struggling for support.

Updated 7.52pm

FRANCE’S FAR-RIGHT National Front saw record-high results in regional polls today, held under a state of emergency just three weeks after Islamic extremists killed 130 people in Paris.

The National Front (FN) came first with between 27.2% and 30.8% of the vote nationwide, and found itself topping the list in at least six of 13 regions, according to early estimates.

FN leader Marine Le Pen and her 25-year-old niece Marion Marechal-Le Pen broke the 40% mark in their respective regions, shattering previous records for the party.

The polls were held under tight security following the country’s worst-ever terror attacks, which have thrust the FN’s anti-immigration and often Islamophobic message to the fore.

Around half the 45 million registered voters took part in the polls, which will see the top two parties in each region go to a run-off next Sunday.

The early estimates showed Marine Le Pen taking a whopping 40% of the vote in the economically depressed northern region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie, once a bastion of the left.

Marion Marechal-Le Pen did even better in the vast southeastern Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur on 41%.

“I expect to gain enough momentum in this first round to be optimistic about the second round” next Sunday, Marine Le Pen said as she cast her vote earlier in the day.

A grouping of right-wing parties took between 27% and 27.4%, the estimates showed, while the ruling Socialist party and its allies took 22.7-23.5%.

FN vice-president Florian Philippot told AFP the results showed they were “very much the first party of France”.

France’s regions have recently been consolidated and given more power over areas such as schools, transport and support for local businesses.

Hollande’s Socialists languish 

President Francois Hollande, who cast his vote in Tulle in central France, has seen his personal ratings surge as a result of his hardline approach since the November 13 attacks in Paris.

But his Socialist Party has languished behind the FN and the centre-right Republicans led by former president Nicolas Sarkozy.

The FN was also seen as in with a chance in the eastern Alsace-Champagne-Ardennes-Lorraine region that borders Belgium and Germany, according to polls by Ipsos and Odoxa.

If traditional parties refuse to join forces against them, analysts predict the FN could take all three regions in the second round on 13 December.

Victory would not only put the party at the head of a regional government for the first time, but would also give Marine Le Pen a springboard for her presidential bid in 2017.

In her campaign, she has focused repeatedly on the migrant camp in Calais known as “The Jungle” where thousands of people are camped trying to reach Britain and northern Europe.

With the FN also locked in a close race for Burgundy and Franche-Comte in the east, politicians across the spectrum appealed to their supporters to head off a historic victory by the party.

‘We told you so’ 

Ahead of the vote, Prime Minister Manuel Valls urged party activists to “appeal to patriotism” to ensure a massive turnout, with Le Pen accusing him of waging “total war” against her.

The FN — whose leaders have repeatedly linked immigration with terrorism — has been climbing in the polls since the gun and suicide bombing attacks in Paris.

When it emerged that at least two of the attackers had entered Europe posing as migrants, the FN went to town with a message of “we told you so.”

But any election triumph will depend on whether the other parties are able to forge alliances against it.

Socialist leaders will begin talks after the first results on Sunday to decide whether to withdraw from some second-round battles, while the Republicans’ strategy meeting is set for Monday.

One Socialist expected to win is Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, a popular choice in the northwestern Brittany region.

- © AFP, 2015

Read: The Paris bar where five people were killed has reopened

Also: Paris attacks: Two new suspects charged in Belgium

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