Royal gets boost as leftist rival quits French race

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The Independent Online

Socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal won a boost to her campaign to unseat France's ruling conservatives by securing the backing of a key rival leftist yesterday.

Jean-Pierre Chevenement, a former defence minister who won 5.3 percent of the vote in 2002, withdrew his candidacy yesterday in support of Royal after their two parties announced a "political accord."

Divisions on the French left were blamed for the Socialists' embarrassing third-place showing in 2002 presidential elections. Polls show Royal at present roughly tied with conservative Nicolas Sarkozy for the April 2007 vote. Every new backer for either could tip the scales.

"No one is forcing me to withdraw my candidacy. I am doing so to pave the way for a positive dynamic in the first round" of the 2007 election, Chevenement told a gathering of his Republican and Citizen Movement party in Paris.

Chevenement, a former Socialist who broke with the party in 1992, is a well-known figure in France and has been an active player in French politics for more than 30 years.

The move is a major boost for Royal, who is working hard to rally France's many and diverse leftist parties. Royal rose rapidly to popularity this year based largely on grassroots politicking and a drastically different style from her old-guard, lofty - and mostly male - rivals.

Though Royal has largely stuck to the Socialists' labour-friendly policies, she has angered some in her own camp by borrowing ideas from the right, including tough punishment for juvenile delinquents.

A group of far-left parties opposed to Royal was meeting yesterday to choose a single candidate to rally behind for the upcoming elections.

Meanwhile, on the right, nationalist candidate Philippe de Villiers suggested that France abandon the euro. He said if he is elected - a very unlikely possibility given his marginal following - he would offer the French people a referendum on returning to their own national currency.

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