French far right leaves door ajar for Sarkozy

PARIS - Far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who stunned France by seizing almost a fifth of presidential first round votes, said she was waiting for answers from President Nicolas Sarkozy before telling her supporters how to vote in a runoff.

After Le Pen took third place in Sunday's ballot with the National Front's top score in a national election, centre-right Sarkozy and Socialist frontrunner Francois Hollande have courted her voters, who may decide the May 6 second round result.

Sarkozy's overtures have been more direct, saying that he respects National Front voters and would not criticise a vote for a party which has long been stigmatised.

Hollande has said he understood voters who wanted to express their frustration at a stagnant economy and unemployment running at a 12-year high.

The president on Wednesday ruled out any deal with Le Pen which would give the far-right positions in the cabinet or help them win parliamentary seats in June's legislative elections.

But Sarkozy has yet to say whether he would advise supporters of his UMP party to vote Socialist rather than for the National Front in the second round of the June legislative elections to keep the far-right out of parliament.

"In case of a runoff between the National Front and a Socialist, will the UMP party and the president prefer to have one of my deputies or a Socialist deputy elected?" Le Pen said on RTL radio.

"I still don't have an answer to those questions, I am waiting. That's a question my voters want to know about," she said. "How I express myself will depend on the response."

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