REFRESH manually for regular updates
- François Fillon stuns rivals with commanding lead
- Juppé grabs second place and will face Fillon in run off
- Sarkozy concedes defeat as comeback halted
- Ex-president Sarkozy hands support to Fillon
Results for France's right wing primary showed François Fillon as the victor in the first round of the primary for next year's French presidential election, with ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy suffering a crushing exit.
Initial results suggested it was going to be a bad night for Sarkozy with Fillon enjoying a strong lead and Juppé in second place.
As the results drifted in throughout Sunday evening it became clear Sarkozy's attempted comeback had ended in a humiliating way in the first round primary.
He conceded defeat around 10pm.
“I did not manage to convince the voters,” Sarkozy said in a speech to supporters, before announcing he would give his support to François Fillon.
“Those who voted for me are free to do what they choose,” said Sarkozy.
When the results are confirmed after all the votes have been counted it will mean that Fillon has pulled off a remarkable come-from-behind victory in the first round after trailing Sarkozy and Juppe in all but the final days of the two-month campaign.
Fillon, described in France as a Thatcherite for the radical economic measures he proposes, had gathered 44 percent of the vote, with over three quarters of the polling stations having declared.
Alain Juppé the pre-vote favourite had picked up 28.1 percent and Nicolas Sarkozy, the former president, gathered 21.1 percent.
Fillon and Juppé will now face each other in next week's run-off. The pair will go head to head in a televised debate before Sunday's vote.
Speaking after most of the results were in Fillon said: “Hope is there. It has shown itself with force to defy all the predictions.
“It was a wave, a wave that shows the interests of the French people to get their country back on track.”
Nicolas Sarkozy's dreams of regaining the Elysée Palace have been left in tatters.
The US-style primary is the first such contest by the French right, organised partly in response to the rise of the far-right National Front (FN) following the massive influx of migrants into Europe and the devastating series of jihadist attacks in France.
The outcome is crucial because with the French left divided, the nominee who emerges from next Sunday's run-off is tipped to go on to take the presidency in May after beating FN leader Marine Le Pen in the second round.
The turn-out was estimated at as many 4.3 million voters, far greater than initially expected. When the Socialist party held their primary in 2011, 2.9 million people voted in the first round.
Out of those who voted polls suggested that as many as 15 percent were sympathizers with the left and 8 percent would normally vote National Front.
The battle had been set to be a clear two-horse race between former Prime Minister Alain Juppé and former president Nicolas Sarkozy but in recent weeks François Fillon, the former PM under Sarkozy, suggested it was a three-way race.
During the campaign Sarkozy had emphasised his tough-guy credentials, saying it makes him a better choice than the mild-mannered Juppe to handle Donald Trump, the volatile US president-elect.
Fillon, who is popular in the business world, has promised “radical” economic measures but is the most conservative of the three on social issues.
Juppe has capitalised on the deep unpopularity of both Hollande and Sarkozy, who remains a highly divisive figure in France four years after he left office.