Exclusive: France's Le Pen clears hurdle to stand in election
PARIS (Reuters) - French far-right leader Marine Le Pen has obtained the backing of 500 elected officials required to be a candidate in the April-May presidential election, she told Reuters on Tuesday, clearing a hurdle days before Friday's filing deadline.
"I have my 500 signatures and therefore I will be a candidate in the presidential election," Le Pen said.
A failure by Le Pen to gather the requisite support by March 16 could have rocked the election race with far-right voters likely to have switched support to conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is behind Socialist Francois Hollande in most opinion polls.
Le Pen - a charismatic speaker who has won a strong following since she took over the National Front leadership from her father Jean-Marie Le Pen in January 2011 - is running third in polls but with too low a score to seriously threaten Hollande or Sarkozy's chances of facing each other in a May 6 runoff.
The former lawyer has shifted from her party's traditional anti-immigration focus and is campaigning for France to exit the euro and erect protectionist barriers. She will hold a news conference later on Tuesday to announce that she is formally in the race.
Sarkozy leads Hollande for the first time in an opinion poll on Tuesday for round one of the election, but is still shown losing in the second round. The Ifop/Fiducial poll put support for Sarkozy at 28.5 percent in the first round on April 22, up from 27 percent at the end of February. Support for Hollande slipped to 27 percent, from 28.5 percent, the poll showed.
Other recent polls put Hollande's support at 28-29 percent and Sarkozy at 27-28 percent for the first round, with Le Pen at around 16 percent, having lost several points in recent weeks. Centrist Francois Bayrou ranks fourth with 12 percent.
In January, Le Pen was just a couple of percentage points behind Sarkozy in polls, reviving memories of the 2002 election when her father made it into a second-round presidential vote against Jacques Chirac. That year, Jean-Marie Le Pen also obtained his 500th signature just before the deadline.
(Reporting by Gerard Bon; Writing by Catherine Bremer; Editing by Michael Roddy)
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