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France votes in regional elections amid tensions after Paris attacks

Last week, Ms. Marechal-Le Pen sparked criticism in Toulon, a Mediterranean city with a large number of citizens of Arab descent, when she said Muslims could only be French “if they follow customs and a lifestyle that has been shaped by Greek and Roman influence and 16 centuries of Christianity”.

Marine Le Pen says the “magnificent result” means that FN was “without contest the first party of France”.

“We are destined to realize the national unity this country needs”, she added, promising to lead voters “on the path to greatness and happiness”. Hollande’s Socialist Party is trailing on around 22 percent and seems likely to lose control of some regions.

“The national movement is now unquestionably the first party of France”.

The final result will be decided in a second-round vote on Sunday.

The center-right Republicans Party of former President Nicolas Sarkozy was second with 27.2 percent.

The former president said that parties should “refuse the too easy temptation of I don’t know what tactical arrangement”.

The arrival of hundreds of thousands of migrants in Europe and the exploits of IS have bolstered the discourse of the National Front, which denounces Europe’s open borders, what it calls the “migratory submersion” and what it claims is the corrupting influence of Islam on French civilization.

The FN had previously won European Parliament elections in France and local government elections.

A win for either by a party long seen as a pariah would be unprecedented in France.

Like other anti-immigration, anti-Europe parties across the continent, the FN is likely to gain from worries over the refugee crisis to win at least one region, and possibly more, in a conclusive run-off on Dec 13, opinion polls show.

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”.

Voters left and right joined together to keep Marine’s father Jean-Marie Le Pen from winning a presidential runoff in 2002.

With the FN also locked in a close race for Burgundy and Franche-Comte in the east, politicians across the spectrum appealed to their supporters to head off a historic victory by the party.

Around half the 45 million registered voters took part in the polls.

Socialist leaders will begin talks after the first results come in on Sunday to decide if they will pull out of some second-round battles, with the Republicans meeting the following day to agree their strategy.

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