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Hollande faces difficult decision after poll losses

PARIS---French President Francois Hollande is set to take the axe to his beleaguered government after it suffered humiliating losses in local elections in which the far-right National Front (FN) made historic gains.

The outcome of the first nationwide vote since Hollande was elected in 2012 was described as “Black Sunday” by one Socialist lawmaker.

The FN won control of 11 towns and was on track to claim more than 1,200 municipal council seats nationwide, its best ever showing at the grassroots level of French politics and a stunning vindication of leader Marine Le Pen's efforts to extend its appeal.

It was also a night to savor for France's main opposition, the center-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP).

The party of former president Nicolas Sarkozy performed strongly across the country, seizing control of a string of towns and cities, including some once considered bastions of the left.

Limoges, a town that had been run by the left for 102 years, fell to the UMP, as did Toulouse, the Champagne capital Reims and Saint Etienne. A total of 155 towns with more than 9,000 residents swung from left to right.

The biggest towns won by the FN or FN-backed candidates were Beziers and Frejus in the south. The mayor's seat in a district of Marseille was among eight others won on Sunday, adding to the FN's first-round election victory in the northern town of Henin-Beaumont.

“We have moved onto a new level,” Le Pen claimed. “There is now a third major political force in our country.

“We will destroy this idea that the FN represents some sort of threat to the Republic. Our elected candidates will show that they are good mayors.”

Nationwide, the UMP and its allies took just under 46 percent of the votes cast, nationwide, the Socialists and other left-wing parties 40.5 percent and the FN and some smaller far right groups just under seven percent.

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