PARIS — French President Francois Hollande's Socialist Party have withdrawn two candidates from key regional elections in the hope of blocking Marine Le Pen and her far-right National Front (FN) from power.
The FN saw record gains in the first round of regional polls Sunday, topping the list in at least six of 13 regions, with leader Le Pen and her niece Marion Marechal-Le Pen breaking the symbolic 40-per cent mark in their respective areas.
But the Socialists later announced they would pull candidates out of the race in the two regions where the women were standing, calling on their voters to back Sarkozy's centre-right Republicans and keep out the FN.
Socialist Party first secretary Jean-Christophe Cambadelis called for a "grand coalition" as he announced candidates for the Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie and Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur regions would withdraw.
"We went as far as we could," a party leader said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
But former conservative president Nicolas Sarkozy, head of The Republicans, said again that his party would not drop out to help Socialist candidates beat the FN in close races.
"We must hear and understand the profound exasperation of the French people," he said.
Christopher Castaner, the Socialist who was forced to step down in Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur in order to dent the younger Le Pen's chances, said he made the move "with a heavy heart."
"The FN's score is a threat to French values," he said.
Any party which secures 10 per cent backing in the first round has the right to present candidates in the second round, due next Sunday. — AFP