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"It is time to liberate the French people" - Le Pen is through to the final round in the presidential election

Pro-EU candidate Emmanuel Macron has topped the poll, followed by Marine Le Pen, in one of the most closely-fought presidential battles France has seen.

France Election Emmanuel Macron celebrates his result Source: AP/PA Images

Updated 0.32am

FAR-RIGHT LEADER Marine Le Pen and pro-Europe candidate Emmanuel Macron look set to face off in the French presidential election final, after the two topped the poll in one of the closest presidential battles France has seen.

Macron took 23.9% of yesterday’s vote, slightly ahead of National Front (FN) leader Le Pen with 21.4%, according to estimates.

Conservative candidate Francois Fillon has conceded defeat and endorsed Macron in the runoff against Le Pen, saying that there was ”no other option but to vote against the far right”.

The French electorate will now have to choose between Macron and Le Pen for president in the second round of voting on 7 May.

“The French have expressed their desire for change,” Macron said. “We’re clearly turning a page in French political history.”

Macron, who is a former banker and minister for the economy, said the results were a clear rejection of France’s traditional parties.

“I want to be the president of the patriots against the threat of nationalists,” he told thousands of supporters in Paris.

Le Pen hailed the result as “historic”.  ”The first step has been taken,” she told her supporters. “It is time to liberate the French people.”

FRANCE-HENIN-BEAUMONT-PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION-FIRST ROUND-LE PEN-CELEBRATION Le Pen celebrates the result Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

She said that the second round of voting will be a battle over France’s future.

“The major issue of this election is runaway globalisation, which is putting our civilisation in danger,” she said.

“Either we continue on the path of complete deregulation, with no borders and no protection… mass immigration and free movement of terrorists… or you choose France,” she added.

There were a total of 11 candidates in Sunday’s election, with four main contenders who all looked at various times throughout the campaign as though they could go through – Macron, Le Pen, Fillon, who looks set to finish third, and far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who will finish fourth.

The projected result signals a massive defeat for Fillon and Socialist Party candidate Benoit Hamon, meaning neither of France’s two major mainstream parties will be in the second round for the first time in 60 years.

France Election Macron celebrates with his wife Brigitte Source: Christophe Ena

Hamon, who is projected to win just 6% of the vote, said the left had suffered a “historic drubbing” but urged voters to keep out Le Pen who he said was “an enemy of the republic”.

The campaign was closely fought, and illustrated a deep divide in France and widespread anger at traditional parties.

Macron, a 39-year-old who had never before stood for election and only started his independent centrist movement 12 months ago, will be the overwhelming favourite to win the second round on 7 May.

All polls show that he has a lead of approximately 20 percentage points in a head-to-head contest with Le Pen.

Different approaches

Le Pen, the 48-year-old leader of the National Front (FN), sought to capitalise on security fears that were catapulted to the fore of the campaign after the fatal shooting of a policeman on Paris’s Champs Elysees avenue claimed by the Islamic State group.

Aiming to ride a wave of populism that led Donald Trump to the White House and Britain to vote for Brexit, Le Pen also wants to pull France out of the eurozone and has threatened to take the country out of the EU as well.

Her ambitions have led observers to predict that a Le Pen victory on 7 May could be a fatal blow for the EU, already weakened by Britain’s vote to leave the bloc.

download Source: PA

Macron is seeking to become France’s youngest ever president and campaigned on a strongly pro-EU and pro-business platform.

Seeking to benefit from a worldwide move away from established political parties, the former banker and economy minister formed his own movement, En Marche (‘On the move’), that he says is “neither to the left nor to the right”.

In the wake of the policeman’s killing on Thursday, 50,000 police and 7,000 soldiers were deployed around France to protect voters.

Rollercoaster

Closely watched around the world, the French campaign has been a rollercoaster ride of unpredictable twists and turns.

A race that began with the surprise nomination of Fillon as right-wing candidate in November shifted into a higher gear in December when unpopular Socialist President Francois Hollande decided not to seek re-election.

Hollande’s five years in office have been dogged by a sluggish economy and a string of terror attacks that have cost more than 230 lives since 2015.

Fillon was the early frontrunner until his support waned after he was charged following accusations he gave his British-born wife a fictional job as his parliamentary assistant for which she was paid nearly €700,000 of public money.

Nearly 47 million people were eligible to vote in the eurozone’s second biggest economy and turnout was forecast to be high at around 80 percent. The results will be seen as a credit to French pollsters, who successfully forecast the results

Additional reporting by Christine Bohan

© AFP 2017

Read: Casting a vote in the French election in Ireland? Here’s what you need to know

Read: President Erdoğan: The rags-to-riches champion that Europe hoped would steady Turkey

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