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Strict rules as French election campaign begins

Electioneering seems to have rumbled on for more than a year, but yesterday marked the official start of the French presidential campaign.

In the final 12 days before the first round – a week on Sunday – strict new rules apply to the radio and TV exposure of the ten official candidates.

All runners, from President Nicolas Sarkozy to Jacques Cheminade (a conspiracy theorist with less than 0.5 per cent poll support), must have equal time on radio and TV news and current affairs programmes. Broadcasters say that no other country has such intrusive rules.

From last night, the candidates will broadcast, for free, eight large and ten small TV and radio "spots", or political broadcasts.

They can say what they like, as long as they do not attack their rivals by name or ask for money.

The two candidates who top the poll on 22 April go forward to the second round on 6 May.