France's presidential election race took over the streets of Paris on Tuesday as three powerful political movements battled for attention with competing rallies five days before polling day.
Marine Le Pen's anti-immigrant far-right National Front kicked off the May Day events with several thousand supporters marching in memory of far-right icon Joan of Arc through central Paris.
Le Pen, who scored a record 18 percent in the April 22 first round, led the march and was expected to urge supporters to abstain rather than back President Nicolas Sarkozy or Socialist Francois Hollande in the run-off.
Waving a sea of blue, white and red French flags, Le Pen's supporters chanted "France for the French!" and "This is our home!" as they marched to the Place de l'Opera, where Le Pen was to give a speech.
Sarkozy's right-wing supporters were to gather at the Place du Trocadero in Paris's posh 16th arrondissement to hear their champion give his last major speech in the capital before the vote.
And, on the left, trade unions were to carry out their traditional march to the historic Place de la Bastille.
With the latest poll predicting a Hollande win on Sunday by 53 to 47 percent, Sarkozy is anxious to gain some momentum from the rally and said he expected "tens of thousands of French" to take part.
Under fire for rallying his supporters on a day traditionally dominated by unions and the left, Sarkozy has hit back with attacks on state benefit recipients and appeals to the middle class.
"I want to tell all of you who work, whether you are taxi drivers, tradesmen, business owners or employees, those of you who have bought a home or have a small inheritance, you have nothing to apologise for," Sarkozy said.
Sarkozy initially billed his rally as a celebration of "real work", before Hollande hit back that he was the president of "real unemployment".
Continuing his efforts to reach out to Le Pen supporters, Sarkozy also repeated that there are "too many" immigrants in France.
"I have never called for a closed France. I will never call for zero immigration, but the reality is that when you invite in more people than you can handle, you no longer integrate them," Sarkozy said.
"There is not enough housing, not enough schools, not enough work."
Confident of the left's support, Hollande was to stay away from the union march on Tuesday, with Socialist Party secretary Martine Aubry to address the mass rally at Bastille.
The rallies will lead into the last key event of the campaign, a head-to-head televised debate between Hollande and Sarkozy on Wednesday night.
Analysts say Sarkozy, who unsuccessfully challenged Hollande to face him in three debates instead of the traditional one, is counting on his debating skills for a breakthrough in the polls.
Government spokeswoman and Budget Minister Valerie Pecresse said the debate could prove crucial.
"We're in the last week and today the question is about credibility, not popularity," Pecresse told Radio Classique, adding that "none of Hollande's promises during this campaign has financing, none can be realised."
Hollande's campaign chief Pierre Moscovici said he hoped for the Socialist to win the debate, to be watched by tens of millions of French, but noted that historically the head-to-head has not had much impact on final results.
"Wednesday's duel must be dignified, but also a debate that Francois Hollande wins," Moscovici told RMC radio.
"The debate has so far never turned an election," he said. "This confrontation, that we owe to the French, is something they expect, it's more than a habit, it's a powerful moment in a presidential race."
The French left has not won a presidential election in a quarter of a century, but fears over low economic growth, rising joblessness and European Union-imposed austerity have given the Socialists a boost.
Many voters also disapprove of Sarkozy's flashy style during his five-year term and have welcomed the Hollande's vows to be a "normal president".
Sarkozy has derided Hollande's traditional tax-and-spend programme as potentially catastrophic for the economy, warning that a Socialist win would cause panic on the financial markets and spark economic chaos.© ANP/AFP