French president Nicolas Sarkozy has lost the first round of the presidential election to his socialist rival Francois Hollande.
Sarkozy won only 27.1% of the vote compared to Hollande on 28.6%, making it the first time a sitting president has lost in the first round.
Marine Le Pen took the largest share of the vote her far-right National Front has ever won with 18.1%, putting her in third place.
Hollande and Sarkozy will now face each other in a second round of voting on 6 May with the state of the economy and how to deal with the eurozone crisis key battle grounds.
Hollande said he was "best placed to become the next president of the republic" and Sarkozy had been punished by voters, the BBC reports.
"The choice is simple, either continue policies that have failed with a divisive incumbent candidate or raise France up again with a new, unifying president," Hollande said.
Sarkozy, who has been in power since 2007, called for three debates during the two weeks to the second round. These would focus on the economy, social issues, and international relations.
Wages, pensions, taxation, and unemployment have been topping the list of voters' concerns.
Sarkozy has promised to reduce France's large budget deficit and to tax people who leave the country for tax reasons, according to the BBC.
Meanwhile, Hollande has strongly criticised Sarkozy's economic record and promised to raise taxes on big corporations and people earning more than 1m euros a year.
If elected, Hollande would be France's first left-wing president since Francois Mitterrand, who completed two seven-year terms between 1981 and 1995.
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