PARIS: France's ruling Socialist Party suffered heavy losses in nationwide local elections Sunday and the far-right National Front claimed control of at least two mid-sized towns, the first exit polls indicated.
As ballots closed, the National front (FN) said it was on track to claim 1,200 municipal council seats nationwide in what one prominent activist described as the biggest electoral success in the party's history.
Exit polls indicated that candidates backed by Marine Le Pen's party had secured the mayor's seat in the southern towns of Beziers and Frejus, but missed out on key targets elsewhere.
"We have moved onto a new level," Le Pen said. "There is now a third major political force in our country."
The historic city of Avignon, where the FN had headed the first round vote, remained under left-wing control and Le Pen's party also failed to win the northeastern town of Forbach, which had been one of its top objectives.
The centre-right UMP also claimed to have had a successful night, describing itself as the principal victor in the first electoral test for President Francois Hollande's government since his 2012 election.
"We have had a very severe warning," acknowledged Segolene Royal, Hollande's former partner who is tipped for a return to government in the reshuffle that is expected to follow in the wake of Sunday's electoral debacle.