Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen trade barbs in marathon presidential debate

The debate, the first face-off held before the presidential election's first round, kicked off with education and social issues, with the tone among the five candidates being respectful.

Recent polls suggest Ms Le Pen will get the most votes in the first round.

UNDR spokesman Laring Baou told DW that Le Pen, as the successor to her father Jean-Marie Le Pen as leader of the National Front party, does not have the interests of Africans in mind.

Polls show independent centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen have a clear lead.

President Francois Hollande entered office that year with his girlfriend Valerie Trierweiler at his side, but she left him after a tabloid magazine exposed Hollande's secret affair with actress Julie Gayet in 2014. "Every time you speak it is a little bit of that and a little bit of that". "I am not going to become involved in a vague region in Europe", she stressed, pointing out that France's independence is a core value for many French people, who want to "defend their values and traditions" and remain competitive "without being lectured" to by a "supranational structure". After generations in which France has been dominated by the Socialists and conservatives, neither party seems capable of winning.

Surveys show that millions of voters are still undecided after five years of unpopular Socialist rule under President Francois Hollande, marked by high unemployment, low growth and jihadist attacks that have killed over 230 people. "I am not saying it is likely".

A French junior minister backed Emmanuel Macron's presidential campaign on Tuesday, the first government member to do so, just hours after he reinforced his status as favourite in the first of a series of TV debates.

"I don't want to force our soldiers to make war that we don't need", she said, referring to overseas conflicts.

"You don't leave the euro and the protection afforded by the European Central Bank...for an adventure... that would ruin borrowers and savers alike", Fillon, who presented himself as the most experienced pair of hands, scolded. "I am proud of having been a banker".

Several opinion polls found Macron, a former investment banker who has never previously run for elected office, was the most convincing performer in a three-hour debate on Monday night watched by nearly 10 million people - over a fifth of the French electorate.

Trying to guess who won a presidential debate is a mug's game.

Up against Macron's centrist, moderate message is Le Pen's fierce, hardline views that have found wide support among voters fed up with France's tepid economy and insecurity. "It was used before Brexit", shot back Le Pen, who has pledged a referendum on France's European Union membership.

As Macron was discussing foreign policy, Le Pen portrayed him as wishy-washy, muttering: "It's empty, completely empty". 'When I have something to say, I say it clearly'.

  • Leroy Wright