Macron, Le Pen exchange May Day blows across Paris

News 01 May 2017

left right A supporter for Marine Le Pen, French National Front (FN) candidate for 2017 presidential election, holds a placard at a campaign rally in Villepinte, near Paris, France, May 1, 2017. REUTESR/Pascal Rossignol 1/11 left right A supporter for Marine Le Pen, French National Front (FN) candidate for 2017 presidential election, holds a poster at a campaign rally in Villepinte, near Paris, France, May 1, 2017. REUTESR/Pascal Rossignol 2/11 left right Marine Le Pen (R), French National Front (FN) candidate for 2017 presidential election, and Debout La France group former candidate Nicolas Dupont-Aignan (L) attend a campaign rally in Villepinte, near Paris, France, May 1, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Platiau 3/11 left right Emmanuel Macron (2ndL), head of the political movement En Marche !, or Onwards !, and candidate for the 2017 presidential election, stands next to Said Bouarram (L), son of Brahim Bouarram, as he pays hommage to Brahim Bouarram, a Moroccan who drowned in 1995 when right-wing extremists threw him from a bridge after a National Front rally, during a ceremony on the banks of the Seine River in Paris, France, May 1, 2017. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer 4/11 left right Marine Le Pen (R), French National Front (FN) candidate for 2017 presidential election, and Debout La France group former candidate Nicolas Dupont-Aignan (L) attend a campaign rally in Villepinte, near Paris, France, May 1, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Platiau 5/11 left right Emmanuel Macron (2ndL), head of the political movement En Marche !, or Onwards !, and candidate for the 2017 presidential election, stands next to Said Bouarram (L), son of Brahim Bouarram, as he pays hommage to Brahim Bouarram, a Moroccan who drowned in 1995 when right-wing extremists threw him from a bridge after a National Front rally, during a ceremony on the banks of the Seine River in Paris, France, May 1, 2017. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer 6/11 left right Marine Le Pen, French National Front (FN) candidate for 2017 presidential election flanked by her bodyguard Thierry Legier (L), waves at the end of her campaign rally in Villepinte, near Paris, France, May 1, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Platiau 7/11 left right Supporters of Marine Le Pen, French National Front (FN) candidate for 2017 presidential election, hold placards which read 'Choose France' during her campaign rally in Villepinte, near Paris, France, May 1, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Platiau 8/11 left right Marine Le Pen, French National Front (FN) candidate for 2017 presidential election, attends a campaign rally in Villepinte, near Paris, France, May 1, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Platiau 9/11 left right Emmanuel Macron , head of the political movement En Marche !, or Onwards !, and candidate for the 2017 presidential election, pays hommage to Brahim Bouarram, a Moroccan who drowned in 1995 when right-wing extremists threw him from a bridge after a National Front rally, during a ceremony on the banks of the Seine River in Paris, France, May 1, 2017. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer 10/11 left right A National Front security staff member indicates the way as supporters arrive to attend the campaign rally for Marine Le Pen, French National Front (FN) candidate for 2017 presidential election, in Villepinte, near Paris, France, May 1, 2017. REUTESR/Pascal Rossignol 11/11 By Michel Rose and Ingrid Melander | PARIS

PARIS Centrist presidential frontrunner Emmanuel Macron and his far-right rival Marine Le Pen traded campaign blows across Paris on May Day, as France's most crucial election in decades entered its final week.

Macron sought for a third successive day to paint National Front (FN) leader Le Pen as an extremist, while she portrayed him as a clone of unpopular outgoing Socialist President Francois Hollande, under whom he served as economy minister from 2014 to 2106.

The latest opinion poll showed Macron leading Le Pen by 61 percent to 39 ahead of Sunday's election, which offers France a choice between his vision of closer integration with a modernized European Union and her calls to cut immigration and take the country out of the euro.

"I will fight up until the very last second not only against her program but also her idea of what constitutes democracy and the French Republic," said Macron, an independent backed by a new party, En Marche! (Onwards!), which he set up himself a year ago.

He was speaking after paying tribute to a young Moroccan man who drowned in the River Seine in Paris 22 years ago after being pushed into the water by skinheads on the fringes of a May Day rally by FN, then led by Le Pen's father Jean-Marie.

Campaigning in Villepinte, a suburb north of the capital, Marine Le Pen told a rally: "Emmanuel Macron is just Francois Hollande who wants to stay and who is hanging on to power like a barnacle."

Since taking over the party, she has worked hard to cleanse it of xenophobic and anti-semitic associations and make it more appealing to a wider electorate. She said at the weekend she had no more contact with her father and was not responsible for his 'unacceptable comments'.

DIVIDED FRANCE

Le Pen senior gave his own traditional May Day speech at a statue of French mediaeval heroine Joan of Arc, just a few hundred yards (meters) from where Macron commemorated the death of young Moroccan Brahim Bouarram.

"Emmanuel Macron is doing a tour of graveyards. It's a bid sign for him," he said.

The bitterly contested election has polarized France, exposing some of the same sense of anger with globalization and political elites that brought Donald Trump to presidential power in the United States, and caused Britons to vote for a divorce from the EU.

The vote in the world's fifth largest economy, a key member of the NATO defense alliance, will be the first to elect a president who is from neither of the main political groupings: the candidates of the Socialists and conservative party The Republicans were knocked out in the first round on April 23.

Between them Le Pen and Macron gathered only 45 percent of votes in that round, which eliminated nine other candidates.

The second round will take place in the middle of a weekend extended by a public holiday. That has fed speculation that a high abstention rate could favor Le Pen, whose supporters typically tell pollsters they are staunchly committed to their candidate.

(Writing by Andrew Callus; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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