Socialist challenger Francois Hollande, front-runner in the race to unseat French President Nicolas Sarkozy, declared war on the world of finance Sunday in a keynote speech to 25,000 supporters three months before the presidential election.

The address, attended by Socialist Party top-brass and some showbiz celebrities, was more an exercise in presidential style than substance.

Without announcing any new election proposals, the man who hopes to unseat Sarkozy on May 6 did not mention his conservative rival by name during a 90-minute speech designed to burnish his image as a head of state in waiting, and confirm to any doubters that he remained an unrepentant left-winger.

In the battle ahead, my main adversary has no name, no face and no party. He will never run as a candidate. He will never be elected, but he rules inspire of all that. My adversary is the world of finance, Hollande said to a standing ovation in a packed conference hall on the northern outskirts of Paris.

Stock options would be banned, big bonus payouts strictly limited and laws introduced to separate traditional retail bank business from risky investment banking if voters made Hollande the first Socialist president in 17 years, since the late Francois Mitterrand.

Mitterrand, who ruled France for 14 years, won power in 1981 a decade after he became Socialist Party leader with a similar tirade against what he then called the power of finance, finance that corrupts, finances that buys, flattens and ruins, finance that rots through to the very conscience of man.

REGULATING FINANCIAL INDUSTRY

Hollande, a mainstream social democrat who is under pressure from within his own camp to adopt a tougher tone, if not a lurch to the left in policies, was addressing the first of a dozen big political rallies being organised on the way into an ballot that takes place in two rounds, with an opening vote on April 22 and the runoff on May 6.

He is due to make a speech Thursday that focuses more on concrete policy proposals, many of which are already known.

Hollande said the economy had been left on the brink of recession by the man whose presidential mandate was about to expire and that, if elected, he would set about regulating the financial industry, something that had not happened despite all the promises by Sarkozy and G20 leaders after the global financial crisis hit in 2007-08.

Hollande also lashed out at far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who is third-placed in the opinion polls and so close to second-placed Sarkozy in some of the most recent polls that analysts believe an election surprise cannot be ruled out.

Her father Jean-Marie Le Pen shocked France and the wider world in 2002 when he qualified for the presidential election runoff by narrowly winning the second place at the expense of Socialist Lionel Jospin.

I still carry the scars, said Hollande. I will fight to the final breath to avert this danger.

A daily Ifop survey of voting intentions showed late last week that Le Pen, who has sought to rebrand her anti-immigrant party as the champion of the economically oppressed in an era of

economic crisis, snapping at his heels.

It showed Hollande in front with a first-round score of 27 percent, Sarkozy second on 23 percent and Le Pen on 21 percent.

Sarkozy has yet to declare but is widely expected to announce around end-February that he is seeking re-election.

(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Pineau, Yves Clarisse and Gerard Bon, editing by Diana Abdallah)