Centrist Bayrou's choice could sway tight French presidential race

The National Front leader's most likely presidential rivals are the centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron or former Prime Minister Francois Fillon with both now expected to defeat Le Pen in May's final round of voting.

Prior to the detentions, Le Pen slammed the case as a "political plot" against her, stressing that the voters would never fall for it.

The victory chances of the three major candidates in the first election round have not changed since Wednesday, namely, Le Pen is expected to lead with 26 percent of votes, while Macron and Filon are likely to gain 22 and 21 percentage points, respectively, the poll showed.

Macron's unforeseen rise illustrates the difficulty in forecasting this year's two-stage election on April 23 and May 7 which is being widely watched by governments and investors around the world.

These allegations came in the same week that Le Pen was criticized for her refusal to wear a headscarf to meet a senior Islamic cleric in Lebanon, as well as her proposal for closer ties to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

However, the office of Lebanon's mufti issued a statement saying that she was told in advance through one of her aides that she would have to put on a headscarf during the meeting.

Deryan heads Dar al-Fatwa, the highest Sunni authority in Lebanon.

Khaldoun Awas, a spokesman for Lebanon's grand mufti, told CNN that he greeted Le Pen at the door of the Edict House and tried to hand her a white headscarf but she refused to accept it. "The Edict House regrets such inappropriate behavior at such meetings", he added.

Under French law, headscarves are prohibited for high school pupils and in public services, on account of church-state separation and equal rights for women.

"You can pass on my respects to the grand mufti, but I will not cover myself up", she said. The anti-immigration, anti-EU leader dismissed the move as a "political manoeuvre".

Wednesday's detentions followed a police raid on Monday on Le Pen's National Front party headquarters on the western edge of Paris, while she was overseas.

With nine weeks to go to the first round, it was still not clear whether Macron, a centrist, or Fillon, a former conservative prime minister, would go through to the knockout against Le Pen.

Who is Marine Le Pen?

The investigation into Le Pen may reveal much broader abuse.

But many on social media praised Le Pen for taking a stand but it didn't appear that American feminists were among them.

Ms Le Pen was ranked among the 100 most influential people in 2011 and 2015 by TIME magazine.

  • Leroy Wright