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Social media abuzz with illegal jibes and hints about result

As most of France waited yesterday for the traditional announcement of projected election results at 8pm, a subversive battle was being fought out on the social media and websites outside France.

It is strictly illegal -- with fines of up to €75,000 -- for the media to broadcast, or even hint at, the likely result of the presidential election before the polling stations close.

Twitter was alight with jibes, jokes and cryptic messages recalling coded World War Two radio communications.

Despite warnings that foreign media were subject to the law, the website of the main French-language Belgian TV channel, RTBF, posted "illegal" information yesterday from 4pm.

RTBF reported a large swing to the Socialist candidate Francois Hollande in several of the French "overseas" territories in the Caribbean and the tiny islands of St Pierre and Miqeulon near the Canadian coast, which voted a day early on Saturday. The Belgian site also reported that two exit polls showed Mr Hollande leading President Sarkozy.

The information was rapidly picked up and relayed by Facebook and Twitter.

Mr Hollande said it would be anti-democratic for late voters in big cities to know the likely outcome before they had cast their ballots.

"According to observers returning from Syria, Russian tanks left at dawn, due to arrive in Paris at 20h," read one Twitter entry, alluding to a possible left-wing victory.

Other aliases for Hollande included "Gouda" and the "Flan".

For Sarkozy, they included "platform heels", a reference to Mr Sarkozy's penchant for shoes that give the diminutive president a few extra centimetres.

"Daddy's girl" clearly alluded to far-right candidate Marine Le Pen.

Firebrand leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon was branded "hot red pepper".

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