France PM Valls calls for united anti-National Front vote

Supporters of far right National Front party regional leader for southeastern France, Marion Marechal-Le Pen, wave flags at a meeting after the results of the first round of the regional elections, in Carpentras Image copyright AP
Image caption Nearly a third of voters backed the anti-immigration FN

France's prime minister has urged voters to back the main opposition to stop the far-right National Front (FN) winning regional elections.

The anti-immigration party did well in Sunday's first round of the elections.

PM Manuel Valls said there was a "choice between two visions of France" and said the FN "divides the French, tries to pit one against the other".

His Socialist Party (PS) has withdrawn from the second round in two regions to unify the anti-FN vote.

Marine Le Pen's FN came first in six of 13 regions in the first round.

However, Nicolas Sarkozy, who leads the centre-right Republicans, has ruled out a similar tactic for his party in the second round.

Both Mr Valls and Mr Sarkozy faced disagreement from within their parties over how to respond to the FN's surge.

"The best way to oppose the FN is by taking our seats in the regional assembly," Jean-Pierre Masseret, the PS leader in the eastern region, told French TV station BFMTV.

Meanwhile former prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, from the Republicans urged his party's leader to copy the PS strategy.

"When you are third, you pull out. You create a front against the destructive force," he said.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Marine Le Pen has her sights set on the 2017 presidential election

Ms Le Pen condemned the PS for withdrawing some candidates from the second round, saying the PS was "neither loyal nor democratic" and was "treating its voters like ballot fodder".

She hailed her party's success on Twitter, saying both the PS and Republicans "are crumbling" and "the French people are sick and tired of that old political world".

The vote was the first election since last month's Paris attacks, in which 130 people died.

About 16% of those who voted for the FN said they had changed their voting intentions after the attacks, an exit poll suggested.

More than two-thirds of respondents said their aim had been to punish President Francois Hollande's PS government.

German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said the FN's strong performance was a "wake-up call for all democrats in Europe".

France's new regional authorities have wide powers over local transport, education and economic development.

The vote is also an important test of FN support ahead of the 2017 presidential election.

The FN had previously won European Parliament elections in France and local government elections.

The regional election was held under a state of emergency declared after the Paris attacks, which were claimed by so-called Islamic State militants.

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