Paris - French President Nicolas Sarkozy vowed on Sunday to tighten border controls, control immigration and fight crime as he launched his campaign for the presidential election runoff following a record first-round vote for the far right.

Sarkozy will face the first-round winner, Socialist Francois Hollande, in the second round on May 6.

A near 20-percent score for the National Front's charismatic leader Marine Le Pen makes her a potential kingmaker and her supporters the biggest source of potential votes in the runoff. Le Pen refused on Sunday to endorse either the conservative incumbent or the challenger.

“The people have expressed a crisis vote which bears witness to their worries, their suffering and their anxiety in face of this new world that is forming,” Sarkozy told supporters after preliminary results of the first round were in. He challenged Hollande to three face-to-face debates over the next two weeks.

“It's about respect for our borders, the fight against outsourcing, immigration controls and valuing work and security,” Sarkozy said. “In this world that changes so fast, people's concern about preserving their way of life is the central issue of this election.”

Sarkozy, who stands to significantly narrow Hollande's 10-point opinion poll lead for the second round if he can persuade Le Pen's supporters to vote for him, said he would detail his commitments on those issues in the days ahead. - Reuters