Sarkozy stakes his claim to the Elysée palace
French conservative Nicolas Sarkozy has won France's presidential election, beating his Socialist rival Ségolène Royal by a comfortable margin.
Within minutes of the polls closing at 8pm (1800 UTC) on Sunday, Royal conceded victory in a speech to party supporters in the heart of Paris.
Shotly afterwards, Sarkozy pledged to represent the entire nation and heal the divisions of a bitter election campaign, praising his defeated opponent.
"To all those French who did not vote for me, I want to say that beyond political battles, beyond differences of opinion, for me there is only one France," he told cheering supporters.
He also reached out to both the United States, which has had frosty relations with France since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and to European Union partners, saying he would make the fight against global warming a priority.
Sarkozy won 53.1 per cent of the vote against 46.9 per cent for Royal. Turnout was 84 per cent, the highest since 1981.
Compared with the last presidential election in 2002, three times more French voters living in Switzerland took part in Sunday's vote. Out of a community of 160,000, more than 76,000 were registered on the electoral lists and 75 per cent of registered voters actually took part.
More than 70 per cent of French expatriates voted in favour of the conservative candidate Sarkozy, although Ségolène Royal did well in Lausanne and Bern.
"I want to launch a call to our European partners, with whom our destiny is deeply linked, to tell them that I have been European all my life... Tonight France is back in Europe."
In reaction to Sarkozy's election, a former Swiss ambassador to Paris, Benedikt von Tscharner, said he was a little surprised at the victory margin but felt that the French had preferred the candidate they thought could turn words into action.
"It's Sarkozy's credibility as someone who does the job that probably strengthened his position," he told swissinfo.
"That said, this very comfortable victory is not going to make life easy. His first task will be to offer gestures and words that will show him as the president of all French people.
"That will be particularly difficult for him because he is a personality who has a certain tendency to antagonise those who don't think the same way he does."
The president of the Association for the French in Switzerland, Jean-Pierre Capelli, who supported Royal, said the result was "of course a disappointment".
"I think Sarkozy's campaign, which was more populist, came across more [than that of Royal]. I compare the arrival of Sarkozy a little with that of [Silvio] Berlusconi in Italy six years ago," he told swissinfo.
Sarkozy supporter Claudine Schmid, coordinator of the Union of French Abroad in Zurich, said the extent of his victory did not surprise her much.
"Nicolas Sarkozy was a good candidate. Ségolène Royal was not one of those [people] the Socialist Party describes as "elephants" within the party. She did not have its total support," she commented.
Final opinion polls before Sunday's vote had given 52-year-old Sarkozy, the son of a Hungarian immigrant, a commanding ten-point lead over Royal in the race to succeed Chirac.
Sarkozy is expected to take power on May 16 or 17, becoming the first French president to be born after the Second World War.
swissinfo with agencies
Sarkozy is a former interior minister who had led the opinion polls since mid-January. He becomes the first son of an immigrant to rule modern France. His father comes from Hungary.
A conservative (Union for a Popular Movement), he promises tough reforms to make France work more, crack down on crime and cut unemployment.
As finance minister in 2004, he saved engineering giant Alstom from collapse and brokered an all-French merger of Aventis and Sanofi to avert a takeover by Switzerland's Novartis.
Fears of renewed unrest prevented him from campaigning in poor districts, whose enmity he earned over his handling of 2005 suburban riots
Aged 53, Royal rose over the past three years from a largely unknown regional leader to become the first woman to have a serious chance of becoming president of France.
She worked under former Socialist President François Mitterrand and led the ministries of environment, family and schools.
She promised leftist policies, including creating jobs, but also breaking with Socialist traditions.
Royal had to explain her way out of several gaffes during her election campaign, such as not knowing how many nuclear submarines France had and seeming to praise China's justice system.
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