Boosted by fears over the Islamic State attacks that killed 130 people in Paris on Nov 13, as well as by record unemployment and immigration, Marine Le Pen's party secured 29.4 percent of the vote nationally, the interior ministry said, with over 85 percent of the votes counted.

Even one outright victory would be a major boost for Le Pen, who wants a base of locally elected officials to help her target power at the national level.

While the FN is well placed to win one or more regions in the Dec 13 run-off, especially after Marine Le Pen attracted over 41 percent of the votes in the north, the Socialist party lowered its chances of doing so by announcing that it was pulling its candidates out of the race there and in the southeast.

However, opinion polls before the election had shown that Le Pen could win even if the Socialists pulled out.    

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