France's National Front sees town halls in its grasp

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By Mark John PARIS (Reuters) - France's anti-immigrant National Front (FN) has surged to power in one former Socialist town-hall bastion and expects more victories in local elections where voters punished President Francois Hollande for failing to tackle unemployment. In what leader Marine Le Pen called a breakthrough for her protectionist anti-EU party, the FN won power in the northern former coal-mining town Henin-Beaumont in a first-round vote on Sunday, and leads in at least six other towns before run-offs scheduled for next week. With turnout levels close to record lows after a series of political scandals that have hit mainstream French politicians of both left and right, Hollande's Socialists and their allies won just 43 percent of the national vote, behind 48 percent for opposition conservatives, exit polls showed. The FN won 7 percent of the national vote - a proportionately high amount, given that it fielded candidates in just 600 of the some 36,000 constituencies across France.