French presidential hopefuls wrap up campaigns in tight race

Ms Marine Le Pen has brought the National Front from fringe status into the political spotlight and is a real contender to be France's first woman president and its first far-right leader since World War II.

Macron yesterday told a rally that he was the only candidate capable "of ensuring the security" of his countrymen and pledged to "track down all those who have attacked our country or are planning to do so and prevent them from doing harm". Do voters judge a book by its cover? "The security forces are mobilized everywhere across France to ensure the security of French people and to ensure the presidential campaign goes smoothly", he said on Tuesday.

This two photo combo and provided by the AP on the condition that its source not be revealed, shows Frenchman Clement Baur. Francois Fillon, right, former French Prime Minister, member of the Republicans political party and 2017 French presidential election candidate of the French centre-right, is greeted by supporters as he arrives t.

Some ultra-left demonstrators skirmished with police during the Wednesday night protest.

The two arrested suspects, who were found in Marseille with a cache of weapons and explosives, were being questioned in the southern city on Wednesday where Le Pen is set to appear later at a rally.

Macron is seen beating Le Pen in a run-off vote by 65 percent to 35 percent. The top two candidates will meet in a runoff on May 7.

Still, caveats must apply following Donald Trump's victory in the US presidential election and Britons' vote to leave the European Union, events which both caught markets off guard past year.

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Currently, opinion polls have centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron at 23 percent; the far right's Marine Le Pen at 22 percent; conservative Francois Fillon at 20 percent; and the left-wing's Jean-Luc Melenchon at 19 percent.

Ms Le Pen took over the party leadership with her father's blessing in 2011 and pushed ahead with her plans to make the party electable.

A banner held by a far-left protester on Wednesday read: "Far-rightists can't be fought in the ballot box".

Tf1 guests normally appear beside an European Union flag tethered to a French tricolour but, unlike rival candidate Emmanuel Macron, Ms. Le Pen insisted that only the French flag should feature alongside her.

They are sharing a stage but will be interviewed individually for 15 minutes as they seek to convince the electorate ahead of Sunday's first round vote.

After his meeting with Anouar Kbibech, head of the French Muslim federation CFCM, Macron issued a statement insisting on the importance of respecting France's secular traditions but saying those shouldn't be used to target Muslims. Some Muslims feel unfairly targeted by French laws banning headscarves in schools and full-face veils in public.

The Cevipof poll of 11,601 people showed first round support for Le Pen has fallen 2.5 percentage points since early April, while support for Macron has dropped 2 points.

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