Protesters clash with Paris police following French first-round result

Le Pen or Macron? France Begins Voting to Decide Presidential Cliffhanger

Le Pen or Macron? France Begins Voting to Decide Presidential Cliffhanger

France's political mainstream, shut out of the presidency by an angry electorate, united on Monday to call on voters to back centrist Emmanuel Macron and reject Marine Le Pen's populist nationalism.

Political analysts say Macron's apparent win today showed that many French people still believe in a more liberal, open, global society even as populists have won big victories in the previous year with the United Kingdom's vote to leave the European Union and Donald Trump's election in the United States. "For now the market - vis-a-vis the euro - disaster has been averted".

Nevertheless, with several defeated candidates calling on supporters to stop her, Le Pen she seems destined to suffer a similar fate to her father when she goes up against Macron in two weeks' time.

"Emmanuel is not a patriot". He sold off national companies.

Le Pen is the leader of the anti-immigration and anti-EU National Front. "It may be that people will wait until the second round", said Richard Benson, co-head of portfolio investment at currency fund Millennium Global in London. Macron's victory dinner celebrations at Paris's upscale Rotonde restaurant amounted to "bling-bling biz", he said.

Macron came in first in Sunday's vote, with just over 23 percent; Marine Le Pen had 21 percent; Melenchon and Fillon each had 19 percent.

He described independent centrist Macron's far-right opponent, Marine Le Pen, as "a nationalist, a racist - I know the woman from the European Parliament, a very unpleasant person". "But the extent of the market reaction shows how nervous investors were, anxious that the actual polls would deliver another shock result".

Both Macron and Le Pen were viewed as favorites in an election that could serve as a referendum on the future direction of France, potentially tilting the country toward protectionism or further embedding France in a relationship with the European Union's 28-nation bloc. The communist-backed candidate, who made a late surge in opinion polls, finished in fourth place.

Every presidential election since 1965 has gone to a second round.

"I'm on the ground to meet the French people to draw their attention to important subjects, including Islamist terrorism to which the least we can say Mr Macron is weak on", Le Pen told reporters.

Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen expressed cautious optimism that former banker Macron would emerge victorious over Le Pen.

Melenchon declined to back either of the two. A spokesman for Germany's Angela Merkel said she wished him "all the best", and Peter Altmaier, Merkel's chief of staff tweeted: "The result for @EmmanuelMacron shows: France AND Europe can win together!"

Speaking at the White House after a terrorist attack on Paris last week left a policeman dead, Mr Trump said she was "strongest on borders, and she's the strongest on what's been going on in France".

In a victory speech on Sunday Macron told supporters of his fledgling En Marche!

Macron later also greeted a cheerful crowd of supporters, saying that "in one year, we have changed the face of French political life".

Sunday's outcome is a huge defeat for the two centre-right and centre-left groupings that have dominated French politics for 60 years.

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