National Front makes gains in French local elections: exit polls

PARIS (Reuters) - France's far-right National Front (FN) made gains in a number of towns in the first round of local elections on Sunday, early exit polls showed of what the anti-immigrant party of Marine Le Pen hailed as a breakthrough.

Exit polls on national television showed the FN nearly won an outright majority in the northern town of Henin-Beaumont, and was first-placed in the eastern town of Forbach and the southern towns of Avignon and Beziers.

"The National Front has arrived as a major independent force - a political force both at the national and local level," Le Pen told TF1 television.

No overall voting trend across the country was immediately available. Run-offs are due to be held next Sunday.

The elections are the first nationwide voter test for Hollande, who won the presidency in May 2012 but has seen his popularity fall to record lows for failing to rein in unemployment by the end of last year, as he had promised.

(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon; editing by Mark John)