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Macron, Le Pen exchange May Day blows on day of rallies and protests

News 01 May 2017

left right Supporters of Emmanuel Macron, head of the political movement En Marche !, or Onwards !, and candidate for the 2017 presidential election, hold placards and French and European flags before a campaign rally in Paris, France, May 1, 2017. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier 1/16 left right Supporters of Emmanuel Macron, head of the political movement En Marche !, or Onwards !, and candidate for the 2017 presidential election, hold placards and French and European flags before a campaign rally in Paris, France, May 1, 2017. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer 2/16 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 3/16 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 4/16 left right Supporters of Emmanuel Macron , head of the political movement En Marche !, or Onwards !, and candidate for the 2017 presidential election, hold placards and French and European flags before a campaign rally in Paris, France, May 1, 2017. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer 5/16 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 6/16 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 7/16 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 8/16 left right Supporters of Emmanuel Macron, head of the political movement En Marche !, or Onwards !, and candidate for the 2017 presidential election, hold placards and French and European flags before a campaign rally in Paris, France, May 1, 2017. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier 9/16 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 10/16 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 11/16 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 12/16 left right Supporters of Emmanuel Macron, head of the political movement En Marche !, or Onwards !, and candidate for the 2017 presidential election, hold placards and French and European flags before a campaign rally in Paris, France, May 1, 2017. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier 13/16 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 14/16 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 15/16 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 16/16 By Michel Rose and Ingrid Melander | PARIS

PARIS Centrist presidential frontrunner Emmanuel Macron and his far-right rival Marine Le Pen attacked each other's visions of France and the role it should play in Europe on Monday against a background of May Day rallies and protests.

Macron sought for a third successive day to paint National Front (FN) candidate 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 2016.

The latest opinion poll showed Macron leading Le Pen by 61 percent to 39 ahead of Sunday's election, widely seen as the most crucial in decades.

On offer is 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 the 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."

She called for France to reclaim its 'independence' from the EU but made no mention of her proposal to drop the euro, the part of her campaign platform which is the least popular with voters, and which she has played down in recent days.

PARTY IMAGE

Le Pen has worked hard to cleanse the FN 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'.

Le Pen senior gave his own traditional May Day speech at a statue of national heroine Joan of Arc, a short walk from where Macron commemorated the death of young Moroccan Brahim Bouarram.

"Emmanuel Macron is doing a tour of graveyards. It's a bad sign for him," he said. His speech before a crowd of a few hundred supporters drew chants of "France for the French!" and "Islam out of France!"

At rallies in Paris, Marseille and elsewhere, some trade unionists and left-wing activists sought to turn the traditional May Day workers' holiday into a day of national solidarity against the National Front, mirroring protests in 2002 when Jean-Marie Le Pen made it through to the second round of the presidential election before losing heavily to conservative Jacques Chirac.

However, other groups, including the powerful CGT union, refused to explicitly back Macron and organized their demonstrations separately.

Masked groups of youths dressed in black were visible among protesters in the capital. BFM TV showed images of what looked like a burning shopping trolley rolled into a line of riot police and one officer set alight by a petrol bomb before his colleagues put the fire out.

Police said officers used tear gas against protesters who had injured three of their number by throwing petrol bombs.

DIVIDED FRANCE

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. A high abstention rate could favor Le Pen, whose supporters typically tell pollsters they are staunchly committed to their candidate.

She devoted much of her speech, lasting nearly an hour, to attacking Macron as the face of the establishment. He was due to speak at a Paris rally later in the day.

Referring to her plan to hold a referendum on whether France should remain in the EU, Le Pen said: "The French people will decide."

She told supporters: "I want France to get its independence back by negotiating with Brussels the return of our sovereignty."

(Additional reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta; Writing by Andrew Callus; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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