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France’s Macron favorite for presidency in runoff with Le Pen

News 24 Apr 2017

left right A combination picture shows portraits of the candidates who will run in the second round in the 2017 French presidential election, Emmanuel Macron (L), head of the political movement En Marche !, or Onwards !, and Marine Le Pen, French National Front (FN) political party leader. Pictures taken March 11, 2017 (R) and February 21, 2017 (L). REUTERS/Christian Hartmann 1/31 left right Emmanuel Macron, head of the political movement En Marche !, or Onwards !, and candidate for the 2017 French presidential election, gestures to supporters after the first round of 2017 French presidential election in Paris, France, April 23, 2017. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier 2/31 left right Marine Le Pen (L), French National Front (FN) political party leader and candidate for French 2017 presidential election, casts her ballot in the first round of 2017 French presidential election at a polling station in Henin-Beaumont, northern France, April 23, 2017. At R, Mayor of Henin-Beaumont Steeve Briois. REUTERS/Charles Platiau 3/31 left right French riot police clash with demonstrators after partial results in the first round of 2017 French presidential election, in Paris, France April 23, 2017. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pellisier 4/31 left right Supporters of Emmanuel Macron, head of the political movement En Marche !, or Onwards !, and candidate for the 2017 French presidential election, react after early results in the first round of 2017 French presidential election, in Paris, France, April 23, 2017. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer 5/31 left right French riot police clash with demonstrators after partial results in the first round of 2017 French presidential election, in Paris, France April 23, 2017. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pellisier 6/31 left right French riot police clash with demonstrators after early results in the first round of 2017 French presidential election, in Paris, France April 23, 2017. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pellisier 7/31 left right French citizens and Emmanuel Macron supporters Victor Dutreil and Louise Courchinoux react as they watch the televised French presidential elections at a viewing event held by the Universite de Montreal in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, April 23, 2017. REUTERS/Dario Ayala 8/31 left right French riot police clash with demonstrators after early results in the first round of 2017 French presidential election, in Paris, France April 23, 2017. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pellisier 9/31 left right An official counts a ballot showing the name of Emmanuel Macron, head of the political movement En Marche !, or Onwards !, and candidate for the 2017 French presidential election, as the counting began for the first round of 2017 French presidential election, at a polling station in Tulle, central France, April 23, 2017. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau 10/31 left right Officials empty a ballot box at the start of counting in the first round of 2017 French presidential election, at a polling station in Tulle, central France, April 23, 2017. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau 11/31 left right Officials empty a ballot box at the start of counting in the first round of 2017 French presidential election, at a polling station in Tulle, central France, April 23, 2017. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau 12/31 left right An official counts a ballot showing the name of Marine Le Pen, French National Front (FN) political party leader and candidate for French 2017 presidential election, as the counting began for the first round of 2017 French presidential election, at a polling station in Tulle, central France, April 23, 2017. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau 13/31 left right Emmanuel Macron (L), head of the political movement En Marche !, or Onwards !, and candidate for the 2017 French presidential election, casts his ballot in the first round of 2017 French presidential election at a polling station in Le Touquet, northern France, April 23, 2017. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer 14/31 left right Names of 2017 French presidential election candidates are seen printed during the first round of 2017 French presidential election in Paris, France, April 23, 2017. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau 15/31 left right Marine Le Pen, French National Front (FN) political party leader and candidate for French 2017 presidential election, casts her ballot in the first round of 2017 French presidential election at a polling station in Henin-Beaumont, northern France, April 23, 2017. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol 16/31 left right People line up to vote at a polling station in the first round of 2017 French presidential election in Vaulx-en-Velin, France, April 23, 2017. REUTERS/Emannuel Foudrot 17/31 left right French President Francois Hollande (L) arrives at a polling station to vote in the first round of 2017 French presidential election in Tulle, central France, April 23, 2017. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau 18/31 left right A policeman looks on a people participate in the first round of 2017 French presidential election in Vaulx-en-Velin, France, April 23, 2017. REUTERS/Emannuel Foudrot 19/31 left right Benoit Hamon, French Socialist party 2017 presidential candidate, leaves the polling booth as he votes in the first round of 2017 French presidential election at a polling station in Trappes, near Paris, France, April 23, 2017. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler 20/31 left right A woman leaves a polling booth as she votes in the first round of 2017 French presidential election at a polling station in Vaulx-en-Velin near Lyon, France, April 23, 2017. REUTERS/Emmanuel Foudrot 21/31 left right David Rachline (R), mayor of Frejus and campaign director of Marine Le Pen, French National Front (FN) political party leader and candidate for French 2017 presidential election, arrives at a polling station in the first round of 2017 French presidential election in Henin-Beaumont, northern France, April 23, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Platiau 22/31 left right A woman prepares to cast her ballot to vote in the first round of 2017 French presidential election at a polling station in Trappes, near Paris, France, April 23, 2017. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler 23/31 left right People line up to vote in the first round of 2017 French presidential election at a polling station in Vaulx-en-Velin near Lyon, France, April 23, 2017. REUTERS/Emmanuel Foudrot 24/31 left right A voter chooses ballots before voting in the first round of 2017 French presidential election at a polling station in Lyon, France, April 23, 2017. REUTERS/Robert Pratta 25/31 left right People choose their ballots before voting in the first round of 2017 French presidential election at a polling station in Lyon, France, April 23, 2017. REUTERS/Robert Pratta 26/31 left right Ballot envelopes and ballot papers are seen on a table at a polling station in the first round of 2017 French presidential election in Lyon, France, April 23, 2017. REUTERS/Robert Pratta 27/31 left right A policeman secures the entrance of a polling station as people arrive to vote in the first round of 2017 French presidential election in Henin-Beaumont, France, April 23, 2017. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol 28/31 left right A policeman stands near a polling station during the first round of 2017 French presidential election in Henin-Beaumont, France, April 23, 2017. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol 29/31 left right A policeman installs barriers near a polling station during the first round of 2017 French presidential election in Henin-Beaumont, France, April 23, 2017. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol 30/31 left right A voter casts his ballot at the polling station to vote in the first round of 2017 French presidential election in Paris, France, April 23, 2017. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann 31/31 By Sybille de La Hamaide and Matthias Blamont | PARIS/HENIN-BEAUMONT, France

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

Though Macron, 39, is a comparative political novice who has never held elected office, new opinion polls on Sunday had him easily winning the final clash against the 48-year-old Le Pen.

Sunday's outcome is a huge defeat for the two center-right and center-left groupings that have dominated French politics for 60 years, and also reduces the prospect of an anti-establishment shock on the scale of Britain's vote last June to quit the European Union and the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president.

In a victory speech, Macron told supporters of his fledgling En Marche! (Onwards!) movement: "In one year, we have changed the face of French politics." He went on to say he would bring in new faces and talent to transform a stale political system if elected.

Conceding defeat even before figures from the count came in, rival conservative and Socialist candidates urged their supporters now to put their energies into backing Macron and stopping any chance of a second-round victory by Le Pen, whose anti-immigration and anti-Europe policies they said spelled disaster for France.

A Harris survey taken on Sunday saw Macron winning the runoff by 64 percent to 36, and an Ipsos/Sopra Steria poll gave a similar result.

As investors breathed a collective sigh of relief at what the market regarded as the best of several possible outcomes, the euro soared 2 percent to $1.09395 EUR= when markets opened in Asia before slipping back to around $1.0886.

It was the euro's highest level since Nov. 10, the day after the results of the U.S. presidential election.

In a race that was too close to call up to the last minute, Macron, a pro-EU ex-banker and former economy minister who founded his own party only a year ago, had 23.9 percent of the votes against 21.4 percent for Le Pen, according to figures from the Interior Ministry with 96 percent of votes counted.

Seconds after the first projections came through, Macron supporters at a Paris conference center burst into the national anthem, the Marseillaise. Many were under 25, reflecting some of the appeal of a man aiming to become France's youngest head of state since Napoleon.

"PRESIDENT OF PATRIOTS"

With an eye to Le Pen's avowedly France-first policies, Macron told the crowd: "I want to be the president of patriots in the face of a threat from nationalists."

If he wins, Macron's biggest challenges will lie ahead, as he first tries to secure a working parliamentary majority for his young party in June, and then seeks broad popular support for labor reforms that are sure to meet resistance.

Addressing the battle ahead, he declared he would seek to break with a system that "has been incapable of responding to the problems of our country for more than 30 years".

"From today I want to build a majority for a government and for a new transformation. It will be made up of new faces and new talent in which every man and woman can have a place," he said.

Le Pen, who is herself bidding to make history as France's first female president, follows in the footsteps of her father, who founded the National Front and reached the second round of the presidential election in 2002.

Jean-Marie Le Pen was ultimately crushed when voters from right and left rallied around the conservative Jacques Chirac in order to keep out a party whose far-right, anti-immigrant views they considered unpalatably xenophobic.

His daughter has done much to soften her party's image, and found widespread support among young voters by pitching herself as an anti-establishment defender of French workers and French interests against global corporations and an economically constricting EU.

"The great issue in this election is the rampant globalization that is putting our civilization at risk," she declared in her first word after results came through.

She went on to launch an attack on the policies of Macron, whom she again described as "the money king" in a disparaging swipe at his investment banker background.

His deregulation policies, she said, would lead to unjust international competition against France's business interests, mass immigration and free movement of terrorists.

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.

Defeated Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon, Socialist Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve and defeated right-wing candidate Francois Fillon all urged voters to rally behind Macron in the second round.

In Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman hailed Macron's success, tweeting: "Good that @EmmanuelMacron succeeded with his policy for a strong EU and social market economy. Wishing him all the best for the next two weeks."

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker expressed similar good wishes for the second round, his spokesman said in Brussels.

BITTER DEFEAT

It was a bitter night for Fillon, seen as a shoo-in for the Elysee until he was hit in January by allegations that his wife had been paid from the public purse for work she did not do.

Fillon scored 19.9 percent in the first round and far-left contender Jean-Luc Melenchon 19.5 percent.

"This defeat is mine and it is for me and me alone to bear it," Fillon, a 63-year-old former conservative prime minister, told a news conference, adding that he would now vote for Macron.

The two politicians left in the race offer radically contrasting economic visions for a country whose economy lags that of its neighbors and where a quarter of young people are unemployed.

Macron's gradual deregulation measures are likely to be welcomed by global financial markets, as are cuts in state expenditure and the civil service. Le Pen wants to print money to finance expanded welfare payments and tax cuts, ditch the euro currency and possibly pull out of the EU.

"Markets will be reassured that the dreaded Le Pen versus Mélenchon run-off has been avoided," said Diego Iscaro, an economist from IHS Markit.

"As a result, we expect some recovery in French bond prices, while the euro is also likely to benefit," he said. "However, a lot can happen in two weeks and French assets are likely under some pressure until the second round is out of the way."

Timothy Ash, an economist at Bluebay asset management, said Trump's victory last November marked a turning point for electorates playing the protest card.

"Despite all the hype about the rise of populism, 60 percent of voters went for mainstream candidates … In an uncertain world, they rather go for what they know best and want to take fewer risks," he said.

For a graphic on French presidential election, click here

(Additional reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta, Bate Felix, Michaela Cabrera, Michel Rose, Geert De Clercq, Mathieu Rosemain, John Irish, Andrew Callus, Sarah White, Ingrid Melander and Leigh Thomas in Paris, and Ilze Filks in Henin-Beaumont; Writing by Richard Balmforth; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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