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PARIS - Nicolas Sarkozy took his re-election bid to the streets of Paris on Monday, seeking to hijack the French left's traditional May Day show of force but failing to win over a scornful Marine Le Pen.
With five days to go before the French presidential vote, the country's three main political movements were on the march, with three competing street rallies in the capital battling for the electorate's attention.
Le Pen, flag-bearer of the far-right anti-immigrant National Front seized on her party's traditional May Day homage to Catholic martyr Joan of Arc to launch another fierce attack on both remaining candidates.
She had won just under 18 percent of the vote in the first round on April 22, trailing Sarkozy and the Socialist frontrunner Francois Hollande, who now face each other in a televised debate Wednesday and the run-off on Sunday.
Sarkozy has a embarked on a determined bid to recruit her supporters to his cause, stressing again and again his promises to cut immigration, withhold voting rights from foreign citizens and oppose gay marriage.
But a triumphalist Le Pen scorned his overture, damning Sarkozy and Hollande equally as creatures of the same party duopoly she blames for France's economic woes and loss of sovereignty to Europe and international finance.
"Who between Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy will impose the austerity plan in the most servile way? Who will submit the best to the instructions of the IMF, the BCE or the European Commission?" she demanded ironically.
"On May 6 it's not a president who is to be elected, but a simple employee of the European Central Bank, a Brussels sub-controller of finance, charged with applying the Commission's decisions without question," she said.
"With regular reports to Angela Merkel's Germany," she added, to loud booing.
Le Pen reminded her supporters that they are free to vote as they choose on Sunday, but said that she would cast a blank ballot so as not to endorse either candidate and strongly suggested that they should do the same.
She declared that the National Front had set the agenda of the presidential election and imposed itself as the "compass" guiding French politics, and she urged her supporters to back the party in June's legislative election.
"This movement we have launched cannot be stopped, our victory is inevitable. Nothing will ever be the same again," she said.
Polls suggest many of Le Pen's supporters will vote begrudgingly for Sarkozy, although not enough to return him to office, and many of the hardcore party members in the crowd in Place de l'Opera disagreed.
"If I was obliged to vote, with a pistol to my head, I'd probably vote Hollande, because five years ago Sarkozy said he had killed the National Front," said Jean-Marie Cojannot, 66, who had come from the far south.
Sarkozy was to meet his own supporters for his last major rally in the capital across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower at the Trocadero esplanade, hoping for a last-minute surge to defeat a confident Hollande.
And, on the left, trade unions were to carry out their traditional march to the historic Place de la Bastille.
With the latest poll predicting a Hollande win on Sunday by 53 to 47 percent, Sarkozy is anxious to gain some momentum from the rally and said he expected "tens of thousands of French" to take part.
Under fire for rallying his supporters on a day traditionally dominated by unions and the left, Sarkozy has hit back with attacks on state benefit recipients and appeals to the middle class.
"I want to tell all of you who work, whether you are taxi drivers, tradesmen, business owners or employees, those of you who have bought a home or have a small inheritance, you have nothing to apologise for," Sarkozy said.
Sarkozy initially billed his rally as a celebration of "real work", before Hollande hit back that he was the president of "real unemployment".
Continuing his efforts to reach out to Le Pen supporters, Sarkozy also repeated that there are "too many" immigrants in France.
"I have never called for a closed France. I will never call for zero immigration, but the reality is that when you invite in more people than you can handle, you no longer integrate them," he said.
"There is not enough housing, not enough schools, not enough work."
Confident of the left's support, Hollande was to stay away from the union march on Tuesday, campaigning elsewhere in the country while Socialist Party secretary Martine Aubry was to address the mass rally at Bastille.