France election: Hollande and Sarkozy in final drive

French President Nicolas Sarkozy at a rally in Nice, 20 April
Image caption President Sarkozy says he stands for a "strong France"

The leading contenders for the French presidency have made their final appeals to voters on the last day of campaigning before Sunday's election.

Incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy - in office since 2007 - urged supporters to "speak up" and choose "a strong France".

Socialist challenger Francois Hollande, who also held a rally, said it was "the left's turn to govern the country".

There are 10 candidates in all and if no candidate wins 50% of the votes, there will be a second run-off round.

Addressing a rally in the south-eastern city of Nice on Friday, Mr Sarkozy said: "Speak up. Don't allow yourselves to be silenced. Come en masse on Sunday."

Bring your ballot papers because each ballot paper will build our victory. Only the French people can say: "The choice we have made is that of a strong France."

Meanwhile Mr Hollande ended his campaign in the industrial north-east - a region hard hit by unemployment.

He told a rally in the town of Charleville-Mezieres: "This is a region that put its faith in Nicolas Sarkozy, who came here making speeches on industry, jobs, workers. Everybody can see the scale of the disappointment.

Image caption Mr Hollande has been stressing France's economic woes

"Now, it's the left's turn to govern the country," he added.

As well as Mr Hollande and Mr Sarkozy, far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, radical leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon and centrist Francois Bayrou are among the front-runners.

Economic focus

Campaigning has focused on the economy, with Mr Sarkozy boasting of good economic growth in 2011, despite unemployment at 10%.

Both leading candidates have promised to balance the budget, but Mr Hollande has emphasised growth rather than austerity.

Mr Hollande told Europe 1 radio earlier on Friday that the country's budget woes were the result of five years of Mr Sarkozy's policies, and called for concerted European action to revive growth.

"The important thing is to put our public finances in order," he said.

"They've been turned completely upside down these past years due to irresponsible fiscal policy and the crisis."

He called for the European Central Bank (ECB) to take a radically different role by lending directly to troubled eurozone states rather than to banks, and by keeping interest rates low.

The ECB is barred by law from purchasing government debt directly - the "no bailout clause" - and some economists argue that such a move would risk easing the pressure for governments to balance their budgets.

Also on Friday morning, Mr Sarkozy said he had helped steer the eurozone through the worst of the debt crisis, making him the safest pair of hands.

"The risk of the euro imploding doesn't exist any more," he told RTL radio.

"We can't afford any mistakes. The minute we ease up on cutting spending, reducing the deficit, reducing the debt, France will share the fate of Spain."

By law, election campaigning had to end at midnight local time (22:00 GMT) on Friday.

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