With more than three-quarters of the votes counted from France's presidential elections conservative Nicolas Sarkozy has a clear lead over Socialist Segolene Royal ahead of a right-left showdown on May sixth.
The former interior minister garnered more than 30% of the vote, followed by Royal with about 25%. Centrist Francois Bayrou and far-right leader Jean Marie le Pen finished a distant third and fourth.
After the early results were announced, Sarkozy said voters clearly showed they want a comprehensive debate between two ideas of the nation, two value systems and two ideas about politics.
Royal said voters have a clear choice on May sixth between two very different voices.
The turnout was about 85%, showing the nation's deep involvement in its search for a new generation of leaders after President Jacques Chirac's 12 years in power.
Socialist Royal has vowed to raise France's monthly minimum wage and pensions, and to create an ambitious jobs program without raising overall taxes. Critics have called the proposals unrealistic.
Sarkozy has taken a tough stance on immigration and crime, and is widely seen as the most business-friendly of the leading candidates.
Information for this report is provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.