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France's Royal warns of violence if Sarkozy wins

PARIS (Reuters) - France risks violence and brutality if right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy wins Sunday’s presidential election, his Socialist opponent Segolene Royal said on Friday.

On the last day of official campaigning, opinion polls showed Sarkozy enjoyed a commanding lead over Royal, who accused the former interior minister of lying and polarizing France.

“Choosing Nicolas Sarkozy would be a dangerous choice,” Royal told RTL radio.

“It is my responsibility today to alert people to the risk of (his) candidature with regards to the violence and brutality that would be unleashed in the country (if he won),” she said.

Pressed on whether there would actually be violence, Royal said: “I think so, I think so,” referring specifically to France’s volatile suburbs hit by widespread rioting in 2005.

A relaxed Sarkozy laughed off her comments.

“She’s not in a good mood this morning. It must be the opinion polls,” he told Europe 1 radio.

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Royal went on the offensive during a fiery television debate between the two on Wednesday night when Sarkozy, portrayed as ruthlessly ambitious by his opponents, questioned whether she was calm enough to become France’s first woman president.

Sarkozy’s performance buttressed his lead in the polls and a TNS Sofres survey published on Friday showed him at 54.5 percent, compared to 45.5 percent for the Socialist.

The last polls of the campaign, one by BVA and one by IPSOS, both put him even further ahead on 55 percent to Royal’s 45.

“It is hard to imagine the trend being reversed,” TNS Sofres deputy head Brice Teinturier told a news conference.

British bookmaker William Hill said bets on the election had been pouring in, with big money going on Sarkozy; one man had put 18,900 pounds ($37,660) on him winning the presidency.

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A senior Royal aide conceded the situation was serious.

“I have said that if the difference between Nicolas Sarkozy and Segolene Royal was more than 5 points, the second round would be difficult,” Royal’s adviser Julien Dray told RFI radio.

Sarkozy topped the first round vote on April 22 with 31.2 percent of the ballot against 25.9 percent for Royal.

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Analysts say a fresh defeat for the Socialists, who have not held the presidency since Francois Mitterrand retired in 1995, could spark a crisis in the party which has not undergone the painful reforms of other European leftist parties.

Royal refused to give up, saying polls could not be trusted.

“I want to tell voters to come and vote in great numbers and to not let themselves be manipulated by these opinion polls,” Royal told France 3 television during a last-minute campaign whirl through the northwestern region of Brittany.

At the start of her campaign, Royal refused to refer to her opponent, but with time running against her she has changed tactics and has relentlessly lambasted him this past week.

On Friday she said he had exacerbated social tensions during his time as interior minister and added that he was unable to enter some neighborhoods for fear of provoking violence. The suburbs were hit by widespread riots in 2005.

“She’s finishing in violence, in a certain state of feverishness,” Sarkozy told reporters during a trip to the Alps. “When I hear her remarks, I wonder why a woman of her qualities carries such violent feelings. It adds nothing to the debate.”

Campaigning ends at midnight ahead of voting in some of France’s overseas territories on Saturday. The rest of the nation’s 44.5 million voters will cast their ballot on Sunday.

Additional reporting by Marc Joanny, Laure Bretton and Francois Murphy