Source AP ©

French presidential campaign enters final phase, with two weeks to go until voting

The French presidential campaign entered its final phase Monday with a series of carefully choreographed spots by candidates, two weeks before the first round of voting.

France's audiovisual regulator has allotted each candidate 45 minutes of airtime on public TV channels until April 20 - two days before the first round, when all candidates must stop their campaigning and no polls can be published.

Most recent voter surveys show Nicolas Sarkozy, the candidate of the governing conservative party, as front-runner for the April 22 vote, followed by Socialist Segolene Royal. Francois Bayrou, a candidate pledging to bridge France's traditional left-right divide, is third.

Polls suggest that aside from those three, far-right nationalist Jean-Marie Le Pen in fourth appears to be the only other hopeful with a chance of qualifying for the runoff on May 6.

In the coming weeks, candidates will be chasing the many undecided voters who are uncertain about what they want for France's future after 12 years under conservative President Jacques Chirac. A poll published Sunday by the CSA-Cisco agency suggested that 42 percent of French respondents have not yet made their choice.

In a tight race, the candidates' publicity spots will be closely watched. France's national audiovisual council carefully controls the campaign to make sure that all the candidates get equal time. The spots range in length from one minute to 5 1/2 minutes.

The three candidates selected at random to air their spots Monday were a hunter who champions rural traditions, a farmer-turned-anti-globalization activist and a far-right candidate who denounces what he calls "Islamization of France."

The three - Frederic Nihous, Jose Bove and Philippe de Villiers - each have 1-2 percent of support in opinion polls.

The Basmanny Court of Moscow arrested Michael Calvey, the founder of Baring Vostok investment fund, on allegations of embezzling 2.5 billion rubles from Vostochny Bank. Calvey will be held in custody until April 13

Putin informed about arrest of US investor Michael Calvey
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