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French voters go to polls in wake of Paris terror attacks

media French voters vote for their new regional council. This year, there are 13 regions at stake instead of 22. AFP PHOTO / ALAIN JOCARD

Polls opened across France Sunday in the first round of regional elections. Around 44 million people are being called upon to vote for their regional council, which is in charge of the running of schools, transport and development. The polls take place against a backdrop of heightened security following the Paris terror attacks, which have thrust the far-right Front National's anti-immigration agenda to the fore.

Three weeks after the country's worst ever terror attacks, French voters are being called upon to vote for their regional council.

Besides the climate of heightened security owing to new state of emergency measures, the other peculiar aspect of Sunday's regional elections is its format.

Following a recent territorial reform to cut red tape and reduce costs, the regions boundaries have been redrawn. There are now 13 rather than 22.

The aim is to make the functioning of the regions smoother. It's here where the running of secondary schools, public transport, tourism and economic development for instance is decided.

Opinion polls predict a strong showing of France's far-right Front National, who seem to have been able to capitalize on the public's fears in the wake of the November 13 terror attacks that left 130 people dead.

President Francois Hollande, who cast his vote Sunday morning in Tulle in central France, has seen his personal ratings surge as a result of his hardline approach since the Paris attacks. But this has not been translated at national level. His Socialist party was languishing at around 22 percent of voter intentions on Friday.

Polls show that Marine Le Pen's Front National could take a commanding lead in the northern region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie in Sunday's first round.

Meanwhile, her 25-year-old niece Marion Marechal-Le Pen could lead the FN to victory in the vast Provence-Alpes-Cote-d'Azur (PACA) region in the south, according to polls Friday.

Victory in the second on December 13 would give the FN control of a region for the first time in its history, and provide Le Pen with a springboard for her bid to be president in 2017.

At midday, voter turnout was at around 16,27%, up by 20 points compared to last year.

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