Centre-right candidate Nicolas Sarkozy will face Socialist Segolene Royal in the run-off of France’s presidential election on 6 May, results indicate.
With most votes counted in Sunday’s first round, Mr Sarkozy had nearly 31%, with Ms Royal, bidding to be France’s first woman president, on 25%.
Centrist Francois Bayrou got 18%, and far-right Jean-Marie Le Pen almost 11%.
Voting throughout the day reached record numbers, with turnout put at 85% – the highest for nearly 50 years.
On a bright spring day, disillusionment with politicians and their promises did not translate into apathy, reports the BBC’s Caroline Wyatt in Paris.
Instead, young and old alike queued at the polling booths at schools and town halls, although in their choices they remained as divided as ever.
Voters turned out in such high numbers that the authorities decided to allow more time for people who were still queueing.
Of the main candidates, Mr Sarkozy, a former interior minister, promised a “rupture” with the past and real economic reform, while Ms Royal has pledged a fairer society.
Both are controversial figures who have divided the French.
Mr Sarkozy is hated by the left as a reformer who many fear would change the French way of life by making the nation work harder and longer and by cutting back on its generous welfare state.
Ms Royal is also regarded with suspicion, seen as too authoritarian and conservative by some Socialists.
The Associated Press, perhaps sensing a Sarkozy win next month, has an “analysis’ which suggests, according to the writer, that Sarkozy may not be a US “lapdog” which you can read here.
The BBC posted a profile of Sarkozy back in January, which is well worth the read.
Pajamas Media has a link round-up of French election coverage.