France's governing Socialists never expected to do well in Sunday's first-round elections, and their strategy worked just as planned: Their conservative rivals took first place.

Before the elections for 2,000 local councils, the Socialists urged people to vote, hoping that turnout would blunt the rise of Marine Le Pen's far-right National Front, even if it meant Nicolas Sarkozy's conservative UMP would be the victor. Initial projections gave the UMP party 31 percent of the vote compared with 24.5 percent for the ational Front and 19.7 percent for the Socialists and their allies. Prime Minister Manuel Valls praised the far-right party's defeat. "When we mobilize the French, it works," he said.

Le Pen was not on ballots, but her National Front is trying to build an army of local officials to buttress her 2017 presidential ambitions. Sunday's vote determines which candidates go to the March 29 round. - AP