Nicolas Sarkozy was declared the most unpopular president in French history in a damning poll on Sunday ahead of the first round of the presidential elections next week, as the two leading candidates vied to rally voters in mass, open-air speeches in Paris.

The capital's Place de la Concorde was transformed into a sea of red, white and blue, as Mr Sarkozy implored France's "silent majority" to confound forecasts that he will be trounced by Socialist rival François Hollande in the presidential run-off on May 6.

run-off: (最后一次)决赛;决定性竞选

"They said you wouldn't come," Mr Sarkozy told a crowd his camp put at 150,000 but which appeared to be less than half that size.

"Silent France has responded through your presence," he said, in a speech aimed at Right-wing traditionalists that attacked multiculturalism, teaching unions, affirmative action and Europe's open borders while defending families and hard work.

affirmative action: 平权行动;反歧视行动

Right-wing traditionalists: 右翼传统主义者

Five miles to the East, the ambience was markedly festive as Mr Hollande told his troops before the Château de Vincennes that the first Socialist presidential victory in 24 years was now within their grasp.

"Nothing is going to stop us," the front-runner told a diverse crowd his camp put at 100,000, and which included several French singers and artists.

"I will be the president of a republic much stronger than the markets, a France stronger than finance," he said, reiterating his pledge to reorient the European fiscal compact towards growth.

"I will be a president of justice. Before taking any decision, I will ask myself: 'Is this fair?'"

"We have waited too long – 10 years in opposition. We have a duty to win."

Mr Sarkozy had insisted in recent days he could "feel the wave rising", promising an "historic" show of force in the square where he held victory celebrations five years ago but also notorious as the spot where French kings had their heads chopped off.

chop off:砍掉

After a brief surge, the latest polls suggest Mr Sarkozy is heading for the electoral guillotine – tipped to trail Mr Hollande narrowly in the first round of the election next Sunday, only to lose the second round two weeks later by up to 14 percentage points.

tip to:倾斜至……