Europe's backlash against austerity gained momentum, in achallenge to German Chancellor Angela Merkel's budget-cuttingprescriptions for resolving the debt crisis.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy lost the first round of hisre-election bid and a revolt against extra spending cuts in thetraditionally budget-conscious Netherlands propelled Prime MinisterMark Rutte's coalition toward an early breakup.

Together with anti-austerity rumblings in a campaign forelections in Greece, the shift in grass-roots sentiment at theheart of Europe generated fresh doubts about the German-drivenstrategy for getting to grips with the two-year-old crisis.

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