French ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy has been knocked out of a primary to choose the presidential candidate of the centre-right Republicans, after finishing third.
Admitting defeat, Mr Sarkozy endorsed Francois Fillon, a moderate who finished first in this morning's first round, according to near-complete results.
Alain Juppe, who like Mr Fillon is an ex-prime minister, finished second in the first centre-right primary to choose a candidate to run in France's presidential election next year.
They will face each other in a run-off next Sunday. The winner will compete in the 2017 election.
Mr Juppe, a moderate conservative, had until recently appeared on track to win the nomination of the Les Republicains party and its centre-right allies.
But the contest turned into a tight race between him and two men to the right of him on the political spectrum.
Mr Sarkozy sought to tap into populist sentiment with some of his policy statements while Mr Fillon has proposed tough measures to shake up the economy.
The winner of the Republicans' primary is likely to make the presidential run-off, where he or she will probably face far-right leader Marine Le Pen.
With the governing socialists unpopular and divided, it seems unlikely that any left-wing candidate will survive the first round in April.
Polls suggest that whoever wins the conservative ticket should beat Ms Le Pen - the National Front's Eurosceptic anti-immigration leader - in the vote next May. She needs a 50 percent vote to become president and her party has never polled much more than 30 percent.
But after Britain stunned the world by voting to quit the European Union and Donald Trump's surprise US election win this year, few are prepared to write off her chances.
Polls and analysts also suggest Ms Le Pen's prospects could be higher than if she faces Mr Juppe, who is seen as having a wider voter appeal than Mr Fillon.
In his concession speech, Mr Sarkozy, 61, said: "I have no bitterness, I have no sadness, and I wish the best for my country."
He told reporters he now supported Mr Fillon, 62, whose "political choices" he said were closer to his own than Mr Juppe's.
Mr Fillon served as Mr Sarkozy's prime minister during the latter's presidency between 2007 and 2012.
The seven candidates:
- Nicolas Sarkozy, 61, who in 2012 failed to be re-elected after a single five-year term. He has since moved to the right on immigration and security issues.
- Alain Juppe, 71, who has campaigned as a moderate and a unifying figure in the aftermath of jihadist attacks. He has been seen as a frontrunner.
- Francois Fillon, 62, a centrist who was Mr Sarkozy's PM and has promised deep market reforms. He has enjoyed a late surge in polls.
- Bruno Le Maire, 47, an outsider with a technocratic image who offers a 1000-page "contract with the French".
- Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, 43, a former environment minister who has called for cannabis to be decriminalised.
- Jean-Francois Cope, 52, a former party chief seen as the standard bearer of an "uninhibited right".
- Jean-Frederic Poisson, 53, a conservative who stresses Christian values.
- BBC / Reuters