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Former Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg was seen as marginally winning the first French left-wing primary television debate on Thursday, raising the prospect of a tight race to select the left’s candidate for the 2017 presidential election.

The winner of the primary at this stage has little prospect of topping the April-May presidential vote with all the leading candidates — conservative Francois Fillon, far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen and independent former Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron — all well ahead.

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