Out with the old? Outsider candidates rock French election

Presidential elections in France will be held in two rounds, on April 23 and May 7.

"I am European but I am against the European Union", Engelmann said in front of the town hall, which flies only the French tricolour, without the blue and yellow EU star flag which flies next to it above most municipalities in France. Republican Francois Fillon is trailing in third since an earlier Canard story in January triggered a criminal probe into his finances.

Ms Le Pen, leader of the National Front (FN) party, promised to restore control of France's borders and scrap the euro, or else hold a referendum on European Union membership.

Turning the topic to security, Ms Le Pen said that France had become a "university for jihadists", prompting angry interruptions from the left-wing candidates.

Broadcaster France 24 also called the debate "more surreal than enlightening" and criticised the decision to allow all 11 candidates to debate.

He said "I am entitled to the presumption of innocence".

Le Pen portrayed her arch rival Macron as "the candidate of the vacuum, of nothing".

They included fast-talking autoworker Philippe Poutou, who featured widely on social media after taking on Le Pen and Fillon over their legal problems in unusually blunt language.




"There will be a referendum in any case", she said, adding that, assuming she was president, she would step down if her proposal in that popular vote was not supported.

Scandal surrounding Fillon, the main centre-right candidate, and a Socialist party in disarray, have been gifts to his campaign.Le Pen, a far more established fixture on the political scene, is expected by many to lead in the first round before being beaten by Macron in the May runoff.

The three-hour marathon was sometimes feisty, often heated, as all tried to win over some of the two-thirds of voters who say they remain undecided just three weeks before the election.

He has risen to around 17 percent - and the 63-year-old former prime minister is an assured performer in debates as he pushes his wish to slash public spending. "An exit would be a complete mess", Dugravot said outside her house in Hayange, a town of less than 16,000 people just 20 km from the border.

A group of around 100 actors, musicians and other cultural figures published an open letter in the leftist Liberation daily calling on voters to bar a possible victory by Le Pen.

"I believe that Germany will not be deaf to that demand", he said.

Whatever the final result, it is clear voters want to see a change at the top of French politics, according to Dr Emmanuelle Schön-Quinlivan, lecturer in European politics in the Department of Government at University College Cork.

Among those planning to vote for Le Pen, 27 percent said Macron would be their fallback option, Ifop's latest election survey showed, even though Macron wants to strengthen the euro and Le Pen aims to pull France out of it.

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