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Anxious Hollande tries to relax ahead of French vote

by FP Staff  May 5, 2012 23:15 IST

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TULLE, France (Reuters) - French Socialist Francois Hollande spent Saturday mingling with well-wishers and sampling delicacies at a market in his rural political base as he savoured what may be his last moments of quiet if he wins Sunday's election runoff.

Final opinion polls give Hollande a lead of around six points for the decisive round against President Nicolas Sarkozy, suggesting he could be a day from becoming the first Socialist to win a French presidential election since 1988.

Hollande's lead narrowed to just four points in one survey on Friday, and he admitted to being slightly on edge as he wandered around the town of Tulle in southwestern France which has been his political base for three decades.

"I'm nervous, anxious for victory," Hollande told Reuters as he killed time mingling with market traders he has greeted for years on his weekend strolls around the town.

While Sarkozy spent the day in the privacy of his home in Paris, Hollande spent much of the morning shaking hands with supporters, kissing children and signing autographs, pausing to inspect local produce from duck pate to honey and strawberries.

Hollande will spend the weekend in Tulle, where he was mayor for seven years until 2008 and remains head of the regional council for the surrounding department of Correze, and will jump on a plane for Paris late on Sunday if he is victorious.

With a heavy international agenda awaiting him if he is elected, including a May NATO summit in Chicago and a June G20 summit in Mexico, Hollande gave the pack of reporters following him a quote in English.

"It's very important for me to have links with the people," he said, hemmed in by a crowd of supporters from all over Correze. "I have to say that I love the people and I suppose now that people love me."

Strict regulations mean neither candidate can campaign the day before the vote or comment specifically on the election.

CHICKEN DELIVERY

Final voter surveys showed Sarkozy trimming Hollande's lead to 4-6 points from as much as 10 in past weeks.

Despite the pressure on his margin, Hollande seemed relaxed alongside his partner Valerie Trierweiler, visibly enjoying hearing cries of: "Francois President!" and words of support.

"I don't mind sending some chickens to the Elysee. I'll give you a good deal," a poultry salesman offered, beaming, as he shook the hand of the man who could be days from moving into the Elysee presidential palace.

Trierweiler, wearing her trademark film-star sunglasses, told Reuters her partner of five years was holding up better to the stress than she was.

"He's got internal strength," she said. "I'm confident, but a little fragile." Earlier in the week, she admitted to Reuters that her legs started to tremble if she thought about Sunday.

Most people in the crowd were backing their local champion over the incumbent Sarkozy, with one describing him as a man who could unite a nation in tough times.

"He will be more honest. There will be less empty talk with him than with Sarkozy and I think he will be a president of all the people," said Madame Germain, 67, a retired school teacher, who travelled 35 km (22 miles) to get a glimpse of Hollande.

In a region where the right also enjoys wide support and former conservative President Jacques Chirac was once a local councillor, some were less convinced.

Sophie Chassaing, a 39-year-old market trader selling pate, said while she believed Hollande would win the election, she was not expecting miracles from a new government.

"Whether it's Sarkozy or Hollande, everybody always thinks they are Superman, but nobody has a magic wand," she said after shaking Hollande's hand. "They are just the people that have to manage a difficult situation."

(Additional reporting by Lucien Libert and Morad Azzouz; Editing by Vicky Buffery and Catherine Bremer)

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