Macron, Le Pen Expected To Advance To French Presidential Runoff

Centrist Emmanuel Macron took a big step toward the French presidency on Sunday by winning the first round of voting and qualifying for the May 7 runoff alongside far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

With 34% of the vote counted, the Interior Ministry said Ms Le Pen was leading on 24.6% followed by Mr Macron on 21.9%.

New polls released Sunday evening showed pro-business Macron easily beating Le Pen, who has hardened her anti-immigration and anti-Europe rhetoric over the last week.

Reaction to the results of the first round reflected the stark contrast between the two candidates' visions. However, all four media said Le Pen's lead over conservative Francois Fillon and leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon was too close to call.

LONDON, April 23 The euro surged in early trading in Asia on Sunday, while French bond yields were expected to fall and French stocks to rally on Monday morning, on relief that France had not been left with a choice between two radical, anti-EU presidential candidates.

For France, today's results mark a political quake. The rejection of the two main parties reflects the anger coursing through a society traumatised by Islamic terrorism and buffeted by years of sub-par economic growth and high unemployment.

Polls suggest and many analysts predict that Macron enjoys a steep advantage going into a head-to-head race with Le Pen.

As projections showed him reaching the last stage of the presidential election, he said, "The French have expressed their desire for change".

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"Given its ramifications, it's more a European or even a global election".

The French vote today was being closely watched as a bellwether for populist sentiment following the election of Donald Trump as US President and Britain's vote to leave the EU. "Given Macron's pro-EU platform, the outlook for Europe ought to be strengthened".

Mr Macron, a 39-year-old investment banker, made the run-off on the back of a grassroots start-up campaign without the backing of a major political party.

Ms Le Pen, 48, addressing National Front backers in Henin-Beaumont, in northern France, said that French voters face a "historic opportunity" to choose between "savage globalisation that threatens our civilisation" or a France "with borders that protect our jobs and our purchasing power".

Although Ms Le Pen now joins Mr Macron in the decisive second round on May 7, all forecasts to date have insisted that such a run-off will end with her being defeated by a comfortable margin.

Some argue the incident increases Le Pen's chances; but previous militant attacks, such as the November 2015 killing of 130 people in Paris ahead of regional polls, have not appeared to have any impact on votes. "It's one or the other, but not the candidates I would have preferred", he added. Escaping from the wreckage of Francois Hollande's Socialist government, he mounted an unprecedented independent candidacy that was initially written off. A lawyer, she has spent much of her career trying to drag the party away from its racist and anti-Semitic roots and toward the mainstream.

Le Pen said the second round would be a battle over France's future, with her vision of a France out of the European Union and behind reinforced borders radically different from her opponent's. On the economy, she wants to take abandon the euro, take control of the central bank and fire up the printing presses to finance welfare spending.

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