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France votes in first election since Paris attacks

France votes in first election since Paris attacks

France votes in first election since Paris attacks

France is set to vote in the first round of regional elections, the first electoral challenge since the Paris attacks, which killed 130 people.

The elections are viewed as a test of public support for the government’s response to the attacks on 13 November.

The far-right National Front (FN) is hoping to make gains and the centre-right Les Republicains party led by former President Nicolas Sarkozy is expected to win a majority of regions.

The second round is on 13 December.

Polls open at 08:00 (07:00 GMT) and close at 20:00 (19:00 GMT), with some 44 million people eligible to vote.

Two target regions

The FN leader, Marine Le Pen, is likely to win in the northern region of Nord-Pas-De-Calais-Picardie, while her niece Marion Marechal-Le Pen is a leading contender in the southern region of Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur.

It would be the first time the National Front has captured any of France’s regions.

Both Les Republicains and the National Front are heading for around 30% of votes, according to opinion polls, but President Francois Hollande’s Socialist Party is trailing on around 22% and looks likely to lose control of some regions.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls made an “appeal to patriotism” on Thursday in an effort to rally the Socialist vote in elections which usually see a low turnout because of the relatively limited powers enjoyed by regional administrations.

The National Front is hoping that a strong performance in this poll will boost the party’s chances for the 2017 presidential elections.

New suspects

A recent opinion poll suggests the National Front’s popularity has increased by between four and seven percentage points since the Paris attacks.

The assaults on 13 November left 130 people dead and more than 350 wounded.

On Friday the Belgian prosecutor’s office said police were seeking two new suspects accused of aiding the fugitive suspect from the Paris attacks Salah Abdeslam.

The pair are “armed and dangerous” and are thought to have helped Abdeslam travel to Hungary in September.

Investigators say Abdeslam may have driven the suicide bombers at the Stade de France to their target on the night of the Paris attacks.

But Abdeslam’s precise role in the attacks remains unclear. There are suggestions he was meant to carry out a suicide attack on the night but decided against it.