French head to polls in Australia, N. Zealand

French citizens in Australia and New Zealand began voting on Sunday in the first round of the country's presidential election that pits Socialist Francois Hollande against incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy.

Nearly 15,000 people are eligible to cast votes at eight centres across Australia while around 5,000 were expected at polling booths in Wellington, Auckland and Christchurch in New Zealand.

French living in Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina started voting Saturday in a new early arrangement designed to increase turnout while polls open at 0600 GMT in France. They close at 1800 GMT when the first predictions are expected.

With the country reeling from the eurozone debt crisis and unemployment recently hitting a 12-year high, the economy and public finances have topped the list of voters' concerns during the campaign.

In Sydney, there were queues outside the Alliance Francaise, one of three polling booths in the city, but voters were underwhelmed by the two main candidates.

"I tried to get interested in the campaign, but it's boring," Eugene Von Den Bulke, a software engineer, said of the race to whittle the 10 candidates down to two.

"I voted for (leftist) Jean-Luc Melenchon. It's a protest vote. He's the only one who puts the economy at the service of society and not the contrary."

Jerome Chevalier, who works at a Sydney hotel, said his vote went to Sarkozy.

"He proposes that the state will pay education fees for kids so it is good for my daughter. Plus, he doesn't want to tax French expats who own a property in France."

Despite having no government experience, Hollande, a 57-year-old moderate Socialist, is leading in most opinion polls and is the clear favourite to win the May 6 run-off vote.

The right-wing Sarkozy, also 57, has narrowed Hollande's first-round lead with an aggressive campaign focusing on issues such as security and immigration.

But his personal style and handling of the economy has alienated many and voters are expected to turn their backs on him after a single five-year term.

Communist-backed candidate Melenchon, the far-right's Marine Le Pen, centrist Francois Bayrou and the Greens' Eva Joly are among other candidates in the running.

About 45 million French people are registered to vote but pollsters say the campaign has failed to capture voters' imagination and are predicting a low turnout.

  • Popular hot yoga myths debunked 5 hours ago
    Popular hot yoga myths debunked

    What’s the hottest new workout taking the world by storm? That would be hot yoga, also known as Bikram yoga. Conducted in a heated room with sweltering temperatures of about 40°C (or approximately 104° Fahrenheit) and 40 per cent humidity, … Continue reading →

  • Thursday #sgroundup: Body found of boy who made first call from Korea ferry: report 6 hours ago
    Thursday #sgroundup: Body found of boy who made first call from Korea ferry: report

    Here are today’s top trending stories in case you missed them.

  • Look, don't touch: Flickr photo of the day 17 hours ago
    Look, don't touch: Flickr photo of the day

    If there's one car that's particularly sought-after among today's well-heeled car collectors, a Ferrari 250 would be it. Usually it's the GTO variant, like the 1963 that sold for a record $52 million last year. A 250 of any sorts demands unfathomable cash, however, which is why we can but gawk at this 250 Testa Rossa. It's as close as any mere mortal will ever come to owning one.

  • Photo of a very thin Lee Kuan Yew sparks concern
    Photo of a very thin Lee Kuan Yew sparks concern

    A new picture of Singapore's first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, who is now 90 years old, has drawn concern from people on Singapore's internet space.

  • Waste oil collector struggles after STOMP posts, receives help from kind souls
    Waste oil collector struggles after STOMP posts, receives help from kind souls

    After being photographed at work in Jurong pooling used oil near coffee shops, 50-year-old Valerie Sim has been struggling to keep her family afloat. Web portals STOMP and The Real Singapore published pictures of her in February, triggering a witch hunt for others like her and comments from readers like “Who knows if they’ll use it as cooking oil?” Some readers also said they filed police reports against her and other people they believed were doing the same thing she was.

  • Indonesian general says his flashy watch is a fake
    Indonesian general says his flashy watch is a fake

    JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesia's military commander said critics who called him out for wearing an especially luxurious watch should be quiet because the timepiece is actually a cheap Chinese fake.