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Le Pen rebuffs Sarkozy, tells supporters to make own choice in French vote Sunday (+video)

French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen refused to support President Nicolas Sarkozy in his reelection bid and released her supporters to vote for whomever they wished this Sunday.

By Gérard Bon and Geert De ClercqReuters / May 1, 2012

France's far right National Front political party leader Marine Le Pen gestures as she delivers a speech in front of the Opera following the National Front's annual May Day rally in Paris May 1.

Charles Platiau/REUTERS

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Paris

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen delivered a further blow on Tuesday to President Nicolas Sarkozy's hopes of re-election by refusing to endorse him and telling her six million supporters to make their own choice at Sunday's ballot.

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Sarkozy, who faces off against Socialist Francois Hollande on May 6, needs many of the 17.9 percent of voters who chose National Front leader Le Pen last week to switch to backing him in the runoff if he is to overcome first-round winner Hollande.

But Le Pen, who came third on April 22 with a score that eclipsed her father's record at the head of the populist protest movement, told a rally in Paris on Tuesday that she personally would spoil her ballot paper in the second round by choosing to vote for neither of the two remaining contenders.

"I will not grant my trust, or a mandate, to these two candidates," she told supporters at an annual commemoration of Joan of Arc, the national saint her group favours to the May Day celebrations held by international labour and leftist parties.

"On Sunday, I will cast a blank ballot."

Le Pen did not further twist the knife for the conservative incumbent by urging her 6.4 million voters to do likewise. But in leaving them to make their own minds up she left it unclear how many will stay at home or even vote for Hollande, who is running a six- to 10-percentage point lead in opinion polls.

"I have made my choice," she said. "Each of you will make yours."

Analysts had calculated that Sarkozy might need as many as 80 percent of Le Pen's first-round voters if he were to win. But polls indicate only about half of them intend to.

With a parliamentary election to come in June, National Front leaders believe they can break through and win seats in the legislature, especially if a heavy defeat for Sarkozy plunges his centre-right UMP party into deeper disarray.

MAY DAY DISPUTES

Being punished for economic gloom, rife unemployment and a widespread dislike of his presidential manner, Sarkozy is the most unpopular sitting president to run for re-election and the first in the 54 years of the current electoral system to lose a first-round vote to a challenger.

Hollande, a mild-mannered centre-leftist running on a tax-and-spend platform, would be the first left-wing president in 17 years to lead the euro zone's second biggest economy.

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