French overseas territories begin presidential voting

After the surprise of Britain's Brexit referendum and the election of Donald Trump as USA president, just what kind of politician - and politics - France chooses will be of huge interest to many, not just those inside Europe.

Polls state that the top two contenders of the race are touted to be Macron and Le Pen, with the former leading by some points.

The French election comes as Frauke Petry's Alternative for Germany party is riven by internal dissent five months before German elections and after Dutch voters gave Geert Wilders's anti-EU Freedom Party 20 seats in the 150-seat lower house of parliament.

Less than two days after a gunman shot dead a policeman on the Champs-Elysées in an attack for which Islamic State claimed responsibility, France's 47 million registered voters - almost a quarter of whom are still undecided - go to the polls amid heightened security.

Political campaigning is banned beginning Saturday across France and online and several candidates canceled appearances Friday hours after the attack.

Security was a prominent issue after a wave of extremist attacks on French soil, including a gunman who killed a Paris police officer Thursday night before being shot dead by security forces.

Voters made their choices in the Atlantic Ocean territories of Saint Pierre and Miquelon as well as in French Guiana in South America, the Caribbean's Guadeloupe and elsewhere. French voters are casting ballots for their next president in an unusually close first-round election Sund.

Europe's largest population of ethnic Chinese live in France, with an estimate of 600,000 residents.

The election is the first in the history of France's 59-year-old Fifth Republic to take place under a state of emergency.

The first round will send two of 11 candidates into a run-off vote in two weeks' time to pick a new president for France, a core member of the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation alliance, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, and the world's fifth largest economy.

However, Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve has accused Le Pen of trying to capitalise on the attack.

The far right, in the shape of Marine Le Pen, who is widely tipped to progress through the first round, has managed to link domestic attackers such as Karim Cheurfi, the Frenchman who carried out the attack against police on the Champs-Elysees, with the wider question of immigration, support for Syrian refugees and even the European Union. He has said that "we need Europe because Europe makes us bigger, because Europe makes us stronger".

Workers prepare booths at a polling station in Lyon, central France, Saturday, April 22, 2017.

"If it were to benefit someone, that would clearly be Marine Le Pen who has dominated this issue throughout the campaign, or Francois Fillon", said Adelaide Zulfikarpasic of the BVA polling institute. "I think the attacks have mobilized people".

Benoit Hamon is the mainstream left-wing Socialist Party nominee but polls suggest he has struggled to gain traction.

The presidential poll has consequences for the future of the European Union, for France's millions of Muslims and for world financial markets.

Macron, only 39, is seeking to become France's youngest-ever president and has campaigned on a strongly pro-EU and pro-business platform.

April 4, 2017: Firebrand leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon was found the most convincing performer by viewers of a televised debate among the 11 candidates, a snap poll showed, with Macron in second place.

President Francois Hollande has cast his vote in the first round of the French election in his political fiefdom of Tulle in Correze, southwestern France. Macron, a former economy minister, has framed himself as a bulwark against Trump's protectionism.

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