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French presidential hopefuls cast ballots in first round of election

France's next leader: centrist Macron vs. far-right Le Pen Macron vows to unite France
Tobias Pedroso | 24 Abril, 2017, 06:58

The populist tsunami that slammed into Britain a year ago, before sweeping across the Atlantic to the United States, may have faded on the shores of France.

Thirty-seven year-old Melenchon voter Fahrid, unemployed, said he would not go and vote in the second round on May 7.

Meanwhile, an Ipsos Sopra Steria poll for France Televisions said Macron was seen winning 62 percent of the vote to 38 percent for Le Pen.

However, conservative Francois Fillon, a former prime minister who was embroiled in a scandal over alleged fake jobs, appears to be closing the gap, as is far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon.

The former Socialist economy minister and former banker was relaxed and posed for selfies with voters.

Francois Fillon (C), member of the Republicans political party and 2017 French presidential election candidate of the French centre-right, holds his ballot as he waits in line to vote in the first round of 2017 French presidential election in Paris, France, April 23, 2017. "I'm aware of the honor and the responsibility that rest on my shoulders". "We managed to get the others out of the picture already, only one candidate remains: Emmanuel Macron who in fact will bring nothing more than (president) François Hollande does today". The possibility of a Le Pen-Melenchon run-off is not the most likely scenario but is one which alarms them.

On Sunday morning, as voting was underway, a polling station was evacuated when police discovered a shotgun.

Le Pen's niece, young hardliner Marion Marechal-Le Pen, hailed a "historic victory for patriots and nationalists" but reaction at her headquarters was subdued compared with the euphoria at the Macron party.

"(French voters) will reject those who keep telling them how to vote and what to believe", she said.

"It will inevitably lead to the end of Europe and of the euro, and, eventually, to France's relegation", he said.

Voters are choosing between 11 candidates in the most unpredictable contest in decades.

His success also suggests that despite multiple terrorist attacks in France recently, a message of outreach to immigrants and an acceptance of Muslims as well as of ethnic diversity have some currency.

Le Pen plans to cut legal immigration in France to 10,000 people a year, put a tax on foreign workers and bring back border controls that the European Union eliminated.

During the campaign, Macron offered a vision of a tolerant and progressive France and a united Europe with open borders.

Riding the wave of disaffection with globalisation that carried Trump to the White House and led Britain to vote for Brexit, Le Pen has vowed to abandon the euro, hold a referendum on withdrawing from the European Union and adopt a French-first policy on jobs and housing.

To chants of "Macron president!" and "We're going to win", Macron began his speech by paying tribute to his opponents, and praised his supporters for his lightning rise. But Fillon conceded, saying that he had failed to "convince" the French.

"It's more complicated than it looks - a new campaign is starting", said Francois Miquet-Marty of pollster Viavoice.

Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon has conceded defeat after the projections showed him to be in a distant fifth place.

Protesters angry about Le Pen's results scuffled with police. Two people were injured and police detained three people as demonstrators burned cars, danced around bonfires and dodged riot police.

Later, around 300 people gathered at a peaceful protest at nearby Place de la Republique, waving red flags and dancing around the flames of a bonfire.

He also cited the history of "violence and intolerance" of Ms Le Pen's far-right National Front party.

On Thursday, a gunman killed a police officer and wounded two others on Paris' iconic Champs-Elysees boulevard before he was fatally shot.

Whatever the outcome on May 7, it will mean a redrawing of France's political landscape, which has been dominated for 60 years by mainstream groupings from the centre-left and centre-right, both of whose candidates faded.

France is now entering unchartered territory, because whoever wins on May 7 can not count on the backing of France's political mainstream parties.