03/05/2012 12:23 BST

Sarkozy And Hollande In Fiery Spat In TV Presidential Debate

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has had a stormy confrontation with socialist rival Francois Hollande in their only televised head-to-head debate, as the final round of the French presidential election looms.

In an ill-tempered exchange on Wednesday, Sarkozy attacked Hollande's plans to raise taxes and increase spending, repeatedly accusing the socialist candidate of lying.

As Hollande tried to intervene, Sarkozy repeatedly snapped at him "Will you let me finish? Will you just let me finish this sentence?!"

Hollande accused Sarkozy of being too friendly with rich people.

"I protect the people, you protect the most privileged!"

Sarkozy later dismissed another attack from Hollande by branding him "a little slanderer" who engages in "petty libel". "You heap slander on top of lies!" he added.

Hollande, who has promised to usher in a "normal" presidency, was subject to a fierce swipe from by the President. "The job of president isn't a normal job and the situation we're in isn't normal," Sarkozy declared, "your normalcy isn't up to the task."

When the candidates discussed European Union legislation, Sarkozy chided Hollande "I am not your pupil". Hollande, taken aback, gasped "You think you can say anything to me!"

Tempers flared when Dominique Strauss-Kahn was mentioned, the former IMF chief who would likely have been in Hollande's place as the Socialist candidate if allegations of sexual misconduct had not emerged.

Sarkozy airily declared "I have no moral lessons to learn from a party that was enthusiastically behind Dominique Strauss-Kahn!". As Hollande denied any knowledge of Strauss-Kahn's private life, Sarkozy yelled at him "Pontius Pilate!"

Sarkozy argued that he was being unfairly blamed for France's economic troubles. He insisted that he was not the "only guilty one". He complained that he had been compared to fascist dictators by his enemies, like General Franco. He added that his large open-air meeting in Paris on Tuesday had been compared to Adolf Hitler's Nuremberg rallies

"You would have a hard time passing yourself off as a victim or a little lamb" scoffed Hollande. "Your friends have compared me to every animal in the zoo!"