French Socialist Francois Hollande will ask lawmakers to vote on a proposed removal of the word race from the French Constitution if he is elected president in May, the frontrunner said in a speech on Saturday.

The 57-year-old Hollande also praised the diversity of France's ethnic makeup, saying the country was proud of its diversity, further distancing himself from incumbent rival Nicolas Sarkozy's tough talk on immigration and calls for clear labelling of halal meat.

There is no room in the republic for race, Hollande told an event for France's overseas territories held in Paris. I will ask parliament to remove the word 'race' from our constitution.

Hollande's widening lead in the polls has seen Sarkozy and other conservative politicians try to woo voters away from the far-right National Front party, drawing criticism from the left.

France is proud of its diversity, Hollande added. The France I love is able to let everyone live together hand-in-hand.

The idea of a race-free constitution is not new for Hollande, who backed a similar proposal put to the National Assembly in 2004, where it was defeated, according to Socialist deputy Victorin Lurel.

The first clause of the Constitution reads: France is an indivisible, secular, democratic and social republic. It ensures equality before the law for all citizens regardless of origin, race or religion.

Hollande was speaking on the eve of a planned Sarkozy rally just outside Paris, seen as a crucial potential milestone for the incumbent president's flagging campaign. One survey earlier this month showed three-quarters of French voters had already made their minds up about Sarkozy.

(Reporting by Lionel Laurent and Gerard Bon)