French voters went to the polls on Sunday to give their final verdict in the hard-fought presidential battle between right-wing incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy and his Socialist challenger Francois Hollande.
Opinion polls and electioneering were banned in the final 32 hours before polling stations opened at 8:00 am (local time), but Hollande began the day as firm favourite despite signs that Sarkozy was closing the gap.
Dark grey skies and scattered rain showers greeted early voters in Paris, but turnout was expected to be high if not quite as huge as it was in 2007, when Sarkozy defeated Hollande's then partner Segolene Royal.
More than 46 million voters were eligible to take part. Polling was to close at 8:00 pm (local time), followed immediately by initial results.
Hollande campaigned as a consensus-building moderate focused on restoring economic growth and is seen as on course to become France's first Socialist president since Francois Mitterrand died in office in 1995.
Sarkozy has trailed consistently in opinion polls for the last six months, but fought a bruising campaign focused on mobilising voters fearful that immigration and globalisation threaten the French way of life.
Final opinion polls conducted on Friday before campaigning was officially suspended for the weekend suggested the still energetic Sarkozy may have closed the gap on the frontrunner to as little as four per cent.
But a complete turnaround would still constitute a surprise, and Hollande was expected to assume the leadership of France, the eurozone's second-largest economy and a nuclear-armed permanent member of the UN Security Council.
Voter turnout in the first round of voting on April 22 was high, at just under 80%, and the duelling run-off candidates, both aged 57, have warned their supporters not to stay at home as every vote counts.