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March 23, 2015 -- Marine Le Pen's National Front party in France celebrated historic gains in France, leading in 43 of 101 local elections.

Le Pen said the party's 25.2 percent of votes was triumphant. The group was hoping to reach 20 percent.

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy formed a "conservative" alliance to blunt the National Front. The alliance edged out a lead with 29.4 percent of the vote, barely stopping the Le Pen's party from claiming an outright victory.

Sarkozy's alliance claimed first place with the National Front claiming second place.

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The French right was celebrating on Monday after local elections saw a conservative alliance and the far-right National Front triumph over the ruling Socialists in a key test ahead of the 2017 presidential poll.

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An alliance led by former president Nicolas Sarkozy took first place in Sunday's first-round polling with 29.4 percent of the vote, while the National Front (FN) of Marine Le Pen came second with 25.2 percent, according to latest figures from the interior ministry.

The Socialists trailed in third with an estimated 21.9 percent -- another blow for President Francois Hollande who has failed to reduce double-digit unemployment in the eurozone's second-largest economy since taking charge in 2012.

Sarkozy described the vote as a "massive shift" back to a "reunited" right-wing, and hailed it as the first step toward mainstream conservatives returning to power that people who cast ballots for the FN should join.

"I want to tell everyone who chose to vote for the FN that we hear your exasperation, but that party... will offer no solution to the difficulties of the French people," Sarkozy said.

The result was greeted with some relief by all mainstream parties in France after several opinion polls predicted victory for Le Pen's surging anti-EU and anti-immigration FN.

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