France regional polls open in first vote since Paris attacks

AFP , Sunday 6 Dec 2015

Marine Le Pen
Leader of the French far-right Front National (FN) party Marine Le Pen (R) gestures alongside FN Vice-President Marion Marechal Le Pen during a meeting for the regional elections in the Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur (PACA) region on November 27, 2015 in Nice. AFP PHOTO

Polls opened Sunday in France for a key regional vote that came three weeks after jihadist attacks in Paris that left 130 people dead.

The far-right National Front (FN) is widely expected to take a step towards gaining control of at least one region for the first time, after the attacks thrust the party's anti-immigration and often Islamophobic message to the fore.

Tight security measures are being enforced for the vote with France still in a state of emergency following the country's worst terror attacks in its history. First projections are expected at 1900 GMT.

The FN's Marine Le Pen is on course to top the poll in the economically-depressed Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie region in the north, once a bastion of the left.

Her 25-year-old niece Marion Marechal-Le Pen, meanwhile, seems to be heading for an equally strong score in the vast southeastern Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur region that includes beaches thronged by sun-seekers in the summer.

Opinion polls give the FN between 27 percent and 30 percent of the vote in the first round, a similar score to the centre-right Republicans led by former president Nicolas Sarkozy.

While President Francois Hollande has seen his personal ratings surge as a result of his hardline approach since the Paris attacks, his Socialist party has not enjoyed a similar boost, and is languishing at around 22 percent of the vote.

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