Segolene Royal took the race to succeed Jacques Chirac as President of France in a fresh direction yesterday, launching a 100 point manifesto for France under her rule.

The 53-year-old socialist party candidate for the presidency would become France’s first woman president if elected.

She pitched her reform programme to a 15,000-strong rally just outside Paris yesterday.

“Today I offer you the presidential pact – one hundred proposals for France to rediscover a shared ambition, pride and fraternity,” she said.

Proposition 87 of her manifesto demands equal rights for same-sex couples, paving the way for future anti-discrimination legislation should the French population elect Royal to the presidency.

Ms Royal’s policy package carried a distinctively socialist flavour.

She promised to raise the minimum wage and the state pension, promote a stronger welfare state, and offer more protection against international market competition.

It is hoped that the manifesto will silence criticism that Royal lacks political substance.

The speech is an attempt to re-energise her campaign after a dip in the polls following several public gaffes on foreign policy.

At one point she appeared not to know how many nuclear submarines France has.

She also caused controversy by appearing to support the accession of Quebec from France and praised the Chinese justice system as “faster” than France’s.

Human rights advocates pointed out that China executes 10,000 people a year.

In 2000, as the Minister of the Family and Children, Royal spoke out against anti-gay bullying in schools.

“School must be a place of tolerance, of welcome.

“Too many young people face teasing, social exclusion because of their sexual orientation. Some consider drugs, suicide attempts.

“It is time to stand up to this hostility shown towards homosexuality,” she said.

Royal has indicated that she is in favour of same-sex couple adoption.

In 2002, Royal introduced a law that gave legal recognition to families with same-sex parents.

Speaking to the LGBT publication Tetu in 2006, Royal positioned herself in favour of same-sex marriage, something which is currently banned under President Jacques Chirac’s conservative ruling UMP party.

“Opening up marriage to same-sex couples is needed in the name of equality, visibility and respect.

“It is essential that everybody has equal rights and dignities and the chance to express themselves freely,” she said.

In contrast, Nicholas Sarkozy, the candidate for the rightist UMP, and current Interior Minister, said in a TV debate earlier this month that he is opposed to any form of gay marriage.

Polling carried out in June 2006 suggests that the French population might support Royal’s policies on gay rights.

The Ipsos survey shows that 62% support gay marriage, while 37% were opposed.

When asked whether same-sex couples should be allowed to adopt children, the survey found more people to be in opposition (55%) than in support (44%).

The French will go to the polls to elect their next President on 22nd April. Around 11 candidates are expected to run alongside Royal and Sarkozy.

The election is a run-off, with the top two candidates go forward to a second election.

In 2002, fascist candidate Jean Marie Le Pen managed to get to the second round, which meant that Chirac was re-elected by a huge 82.2% of the vote.

Le Pen is running again in 2007.

Since a change in the law in 2000, French presidential terms run for five years, instead of the previous seven.