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French Leftists Lead In Parliamentary Elections

France’s leftist opposition capitalized on voter discontent with record unemployment to win the lion’s share of the vote in first-round parliamentary elections Sunday, exit polls indicate.

President Jacques Chirac had called the early elections, hoping to win a mandate from the nation’s 39 million voters for more austerity and free-market reform. But France’s 12.8 percent unemployment was an easy target for Socialist leader Lionel Jospin.

A leftist victory in the June 1 runoff, replacing a crushing conservative majority in Parliament, would force Chirac into “cohabitation.” That likely would brake Chirac’s policies, criticized as threatening France’s cherished system of social and labor protection.

After polls closed at 8 p.m., television projections based on exit polls gave leftists a plurality of the vote. The polling agency CSA gave the left 40.8 percent, the right 36 percent and the far-right National Front 15.3 percent.

Chirac called the vote 10 months early, betting he and Prime Minister Alain Juppe could maintain control of Parliament before expected new budget cuts, needed this year to qualify for the “euro,” the European single currency.

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