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French Socialists Cast First-Round Votes To Select Presidential Candidate

PARIS (AP) — French left-wing voters are casting ballots in a nationwide presidential primary aimed at producing a candidate strong enough to confront formidable conservative and nationalist rivals in the April-May general election.

Seven candidates from the Socialist Party and its allies are running in Sunday’s first round of voting. The top two vote-getters advance to a runoff Jan. 29.

Center-leaning former Prime Minister Manuel Valls is a leading contender, but faces formidable challenges from harder-core leftists Arnaud Montebourg and Benoit Hamon, both former government ministers.

The primary’s winner will have tough competition from candidates on the far left, center, right and far right in a campaign marked by anti-immigrant populism and economic stagnation.

President Francois Hollande declined to seek re-election, fearing his record-low popularity would hurt the Socialists’ chances of keeping the presidency.

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