After Debate, Macron Secures Leadership to French Elections

Francois Fillon France’s presidential candidate during an election campaign meeting in Paris France

Francois Fillon France’s presidential candidate during an election campaign meeting in Paris France

Former Economy Minister Macron, Le Pen's centrist rival, argued that the unending flow of migrants can only be stemmed through more cooperation within the EU.

The polling helped assuage fears that far-right candidate Marine Le Pen might pull off an upset victory similar to President Donald Trump's win in the November 8 USA election.

The debate, and the two others that will follow ahead of the April 23 first round, are seen as key in an election in which almost 40 per cent of voters say they are not sure who to back.

Most people considered Macron had the most to lose from the live debate given his rise in the polls and volatility of his voters.

When Le Pen suggested that Macron wasn't committed to France's secular values, saying he supported burkinis on beaches, he fired back.

She said they had also discussed Libya, and she again condemned France's role in helping to oust its longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi, which she called "a serious mistake ... with serious consequences".

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The poll, conducted after a Monday night televised debate between Macron, Le Pen and three other leading candidates showed him leading in the first round by 26 percent against 24.5 percent for the National Front leader. Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon came in last.

France's turbulent presidential campaign remained in focus for global investors, who have been concerned about the potential for a populist backlash following last year's surprise votes for Brexit in Britain and for Trump in the United States.

The markets have been nervous about the possibility of a Le Pen victory as she has pledged to take France out of the euro and hold a referendum on European Union membership.

The UNDR, however, claims Le Pen is travelling to the Central African nation to ask for campaign funds from President Idriss Déby, and urged Chad to not show any sympathy for her candidacy.

But with so many voters undecided and polls showing the abstention rate could be higher than ever in France, the level of uncertainty remains high.

Le Pen would get 27% in the first round vote, according to the latest Opinionway poll.

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Francois Fillon, left, and his wife Penelope arrive for the debate.

He resented being asked a question about political corruption and transparency, pointing out that only Fillon and Le Pen are facing formal investigations. "I pledge to be controlled by no one", he said.

Europhiles, meanwhile, have been banking on centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron and his staunchly pro-EU agenda.

Macron was relatively unknown before he introduced a series of reforms during his time as the economy minister in 2015, which chipped away at the "French social model", of the 35-hour workweek.

"Marine Le Pen has arrived in N'Djamena and is continuing to Amdjarass about 900 kilometers to the east where she will be received this afternoon at her initiative by President Deby", a spokesman for the Chadian president said.

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