Presidential voting begins in French overseas territories

By Xinhua

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Paris : Voting in the French presidential elections began in the country's overseas territories Saturday, a day before polls open in mainland France, French news media reported.

Some 5,000 registered voters on Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, islands off the coast of Canada, cast the first votes a day ahead at 8 a.m. (local time) because of the time difference with the mainland.

Later in the day, voters in French Guiana, Guadeloupe and Martinique, in the Caribbean, and French Polynesia in the Pacific, will also go to the polls.

About 1 million French nationals overseas are eligible to vote. Voting for the vast majority of France's 44.5 million registered voters begins at 8 a.m. (local time) Sunday, with the last polling stations closing 12 hours later.

Polls published Friday showed that Nicolas Sarkozy, candidate of the ruling Union for a Popular Movement party, is enjoying a clear lead against the Socialist Party's candidate Segolene Royal after a televised debate Wednesday.

The 52-year-old Sarkozy, son of a Hungarian immigrant and a French mother, takes a hardline position on immigration and the unemployed.

Royal, who would be France's first woman leader if elected, wants to maintain generous welfare programs, raise the minimum wage by 20 percent and create 500,000 state-funded starter jobs for youths.