PARIS  - Supporters of France’s two main presidential candidates battled it out at separate mass rallies in Paris on Sunday, where hopes of victory on left and right warmed windswept flag-waving crowds.

“Those who don’t vote for Nicolas Sarkozy are wrong,” said Michele Chambron, 42, one of thousands waving tricolour flags at the right-wing incumbent’s rally on the vast Place de le Concorde in central Paris.

“If ever he isn’t elected, it will be catastrophic, it will be France’s ruin. I would weep,” said Chambron, wearing a woollen hat against the biting wind and a “Youth with Sarkozy” T-shirt. Thumping dance music echoed across the square where much aristocratic blood was spilled by guillotines during the 1789 revolution, huge television screens broadcasting speeches and Sarkozy’s “Strong France” campaign slogan.

Much of the crowd was white and apparently well-off, many wearing expensive clothes and unused to mass demonstrations - except for those who attended Sarkozy’s victory rally on the same square in 2007.

Gaelle-Marie Le Chapelain, 38, predicted “total chaos” if Socialist candidate Francois Hollande, staging his own rally at the Chateau de Vincennes across town, were to win the two-stage April 22 and May 6 vote. “In six months we’d be in the same position as the Greek people. I’d think about leaving France,” she said.

Retired teacher Michelle Henry told AFP that the strong turnout at the rally - an optimistic 100,000 according to organisers at both gatherings - made her realise she was not alone in supporting Sarkozy and his UMP party.

“We’re no longer alone. We’re so many who have trust in Mr Sarkozy,” she said. “Sometimes we felt alone. The media are so negative with him.” Her friend Danielle Cherprenet, also retired, insisted that Sarkozy would win, despite opinion polls pointing to a Socialist victory.

“We’re worried about what will happen if the Socialists win. It’s going to be close, but we will win. People will have good sense at the last minute. It’s impossible for him not to win.” At Hollande’s rally at the Chateau de Vincennes in traditionally working class south-eastern Paris, left-wing supporters were hoping that a Socialist will be in the Elysee Palace for the first time since 1996.

“I want things to change, for it no longer to be Sarkozy with his gifts for the privileged, his presidency that saw rising inequality,” a teacher said, as Caribbean zouk band Kassav warmed up the huge crowd behind her.

Sandrine Arnaud, a 34-year-old primary teacher from Enghien les Bains, waves a white flag emblazoned with Hollande’s “It’s Now” campaign slogan.

“I’m not entirely convinced by Hollande but I’m so fed up with Sarkozy. He only divides France. Hollande will bring people together more.

Hollande’s crowd waved fewer tricolor flags than the Sarkozy crowd, but many Socialist Party and other banners were in evidence.

“I’m originally from the right. I voted for Chirac in 2002 but the right evolved in such an appalling way with Sarkozy, towards the extreme right,” said Corinne Marchaud, 52.

“We expect change, more honest politics, which make people the priority.”

She said that Hollande had grown in a positive way and had an increasingly presidential stature. “He promises a lot on the economy, what he will do is another thing,” she admitted.