French Republican primary: Sarkozy facing defeat
French voters have taken part in a US-style primary to choose the candidate of the centre-right Republican party in next year's presidential election.
With most votes counted in Sunday's first round, ex-Prime Minister Francois Fillon appeared to be in the lead.
Alain Juppe, another ex-prime minister, also seemed likely to make the run off.
The partial results suggest former President Nicolas Sarkozy could come third, which would rule him out of the second round next Sunday.
The winner of the conservative primary is likely to make the presidential run-off, where he or she will probably face far-right leader Marine Le Pen.
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Polls suggest that the Republican candidate would win that election. With the governing socialists unpopular and divided, it seems unlikely that any left-wing candidate will survive the first round.
Organisers said turnout was high. More than three million people were expected to cast ballots.
Voting is not restricted to party members. Those taking part have to sign a statement saying that they "share the Republican values of the right and the centre".
The candidates are:
- Nicolas Sarkozy, 61, who in 2012 failed to be re-elected after a single five-year term. He has since moved to the right on immigration and security issues.
- Alain Juppe, 71, who has campaigned as a moderate and a unifying figure in the aftermath of jihadist attacks. He has been seen as a frontrunner.
- Francois Fillon, 62, a centrist who was Mr Sarkozy's PM and has promised deep market reforms. He has enjoyed a late surge in polls.
- Bruno Le Maire, 47, an outsider with a technocratic image who offers a 1,000-page "contract with the French".
- Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, 43, a former environment minister who has called for cannabis to be decriminalised.
- Jean-Francois Cope, 52, a former party chief seen as the standard bearer of an "uninhibited right".
- Jean-Frederic Poisson, 53, a conservative who stresses Christian values.