Le Pen vows to cast protest vote

The leader of France's resurgent, anti-immigrant far right, Marine Le Pen, is refusing to endorse either candidate in the country's presidential run-off and said she will cast a blank protest ballot.

Ms Le Pen, who came in a strong third place in the first round of voting on April 22, told her supporters at a rally in Paris to "vote according to your conscience".

She assailed conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has borrowed some of Ms Le Pen's rhetoric about immigrants and Muslims in his campaign, accusing him of impoverishing the French and giving up too much sovereignty to the European Union.

Ms Le Pen threw cold water on Mr Sarkozy's attempts to woo her voters.

"I will cast a blank ballot," she said. "Each one of you will make your choice," she added, while insisting that she herself could not endorse Mr Sarkozy or Socialist challenger Francois Hollande.

Polls favour Mr Hollande. Observers say Ms Le Pen is distancing herself from Mr Sarkozy in the hope of becoming the face of the French opposition under a Socialist leadership.

Ms Le Pen urged her supporters to focus on upcoming parliamentary elections, where she hopes her National Front party wins a presence in the National Assembly for the first time since 1986.

Across town, Mr Sarkozy is holding a campaign rally of his own where he is expected to reach out to the far right. In a radio interview, he was asked whether France has too many immigrants, and answered: "Yes".

"Our system of integration doesn't work. Why? Because before we were able to integrate those who were received on our territory, others arrived. Having taken in too many people, we paralysed our system of integration," he said on RMC radio.

"I will never argue for zero immigration, but the reality is that when you invite more people than you can handle, you no longer integrate them," he said.