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Nicolas Sarkozy reacts to supporters at Trocadero Square. Photo: AP

NICOLAS Sarkozy has stepped up his appeal to France's far right by lauding national identity, borders and French Christian heritage at a vast rally in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.

But the French President was dealt a serious blow by National Front leader Marine Le Pen, who told her supporters she would not vote for him.

Thousands of Mr Sarkozy's flag-waving supporters, many of them party activists bussed in from the provinces by his right-wing UMP party, turned out at the Trocadero in front of the tower.

Mr Sarkozy's alternative May Day labour rally on Tuesday, which he initially said was a defiant celebration of ''real'' work versus the traditional trade union marches, has caused a slanging match in France.

A Communist newspaper and various commentators likened Mr Sarkozy to Marshal Petain, the leader of France's Nazi collaborationist regime in the 1940s, for trying to appropriate the ''values of work'' for the right. His party slammed the parallels as shameful and disgusting.

Mr Sarkozy told the crowd: ''We don't want socialism!'' He stressed the importance of loving France, the value of work, and promised a new French social model with fewer rules and red tape. He said France must defend ''values, identity and the frontiers that protect us'', adding: ''Do you think China doesn't defend its identity?''

With polls showing a six to eight-point lead for the Socialist Francois Hollande ahead of the final vote on Sunday, and one showing only 19 per cent of French people think Mr Sarkozy can win, party activists in the crowd admitted a victory for Mr Sarkozy would be very hard. Many bought T-shirts bearing a picture of General de Gaulle and the words: ''He saved France, so did Nicolas Sarkozy.''

A group of students in Dijon had been up until 2am plastering the centre of town with stickers warning that a win for the left would lead to bankruptcy for France.

GUARDIAN