Low turnout will hand victory to Le Pen, rivals warn

Francois Fillon former French Prime Minister member of the Republicans political party and 2017 presidential election candidate of the French centre-right reacts as he visits the Mont Faron in Toulon

Francois Fillon former French Prime Minister member of the Republicans political party and 2017 presidential election candidate of the French centre-right reacts as he visits the Mont Faron in Toulon

Supporters of the National Front's Marine Le Pen would pick centrist Emmanuel Macron as their second choice in the French presidential election, according to an Ifop poll, even though the candidates have clashed on nearly all major issues.

PARIS The two leading candidates in France's presidential election clashed sharply over Europe in a televised debate on Tuesday night, with centrist Emmanuel Macron accusing the far right's Marine Le Pen, his anti-European Union rival, of lying.

Macron promoted pro-free market, pro-European views.

Francois Hollande's former finance minister defected from the French socialists to run for president previous year, founding his own centre-left En Marche! party.

"Marine Le Pen is a French nationalist, and if she wins, France will not be the kind of ally that it has been to the United States for so many years since the foundation of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation".

Fillon, a 63-year-old conservative prime minister, was the frontrunner in the campaign until he was hit by allegations that he paid his wife, a son and daughter hundreds of thousands of euros of public money for minimal work.

All 11 candidates for the French presidency fought for the spotlight in a marathon debate Tuesday, setting out their visions for turning around a moribund economy and redefining France's place in Europe.

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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.

French presidential candidate Francois Fillon. "There are flowers everywhere", Melenchon, 65, told a rally on Sunday.

The presence of the six minor candidates - all polling well under five percent - added a strong anti-capitalist element to the debate, as well as vivid anti-EU sentiment.

In the crowded debate, each candidate was allowed to speak for around 15 minutes and the questions were restricted to just three themes - how to create jobs, how to protect France, and the thorny issue of how each candidate would implement their vision of France's social model. Far-right leader Marine Le Pen expressed support for a "clever" protectionism.

The final result of an election that is being watched closely around the world is still seen as highly unpredictable.

Le Pen blames the European Union and its common currency for stifling the French economy.

But Macron warned Monday that commentators were still underestimating Le Pen, saying those who said she stood no chance were "the same people who said (Donald) Trump couldn't win".

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