Le Pen Campaign Director Targeted by French Probe, Canard Says

As the French presidential election enters the final straight some demonstrators are fined for a saucepan protest outside a rally by the conservative Francois Fillon, and artists urge voters to block far-right leader Marine Le Pen. Some 21 percent found centrist Emmanuel Macron as the most convincing, the second best score.

Unlike the first debate, Tuesday's featured all of the candidates ahead for the first time in French history.

And Le Pen's attempt to persuade voters that her party has changed was dealt a blow in March, when one of its counselors was suspended over allegations of Holocaust denial, after he was caught on camera playing down the systematic murder of six million Jews.

Voting in the first round of the election is set for April 23 with a runoff between the two leading candidates on May 7.

Le Pen said Macron pretended to be modern but was "talking like fossils that are at least 50 years old".

Communist-backed Jean-Luc Melenchon, 65, who has been rising in the polls, came out slugging against big business, saying it should "pay back" its riches.

Hard-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon marked further poll gains, almost catching up with erstwhile favourite Francois Fillon, a conservative former Prime Minister.

The second round run-off on 7 May, most likely to be between Le Pen and Macron, remains unpredictable, as the overall electorate is still vague in their voting intentions, with only 62% expressing certainty in their choice of candidate to leave the result open to the participation rate.

Emmanuel Macron was today confirmed as the clear favourite to become the next French president following a live TV debate in which his two main rivals were accused of profiteering.

While one in two voters agree with Le Pen's stance that there are too many immigrants in France, only 22 percent want to ditch the euro, a Kantar Sofres poll showed.

Francois Hollande's former finance minister defected from the French socialists to run for president previous year, founding his own centre-left En Marche! party.

Le Pen, like Fillon, has denied any wrongdoing. A self-described patriot, Le Pen hopes to extract France from the European Union and do away with France's membership in the shared euro currency.

It also is, for outsiders like right-winger Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, who has around 4-5 percentage points in opinion polls, and for five candidates who poll between 0 and 1 percent, a rare chance to step into the spotlight. Most French polls show him as the likely victor in a runoff with Le Pen.

Fillon, a 63-year-old former prime minister, and his wife are now under formal investigation for fraud.

But 58-year old Andre Sobies, an assembly line worker for carmaker Peugeot PSA who saves up what he can to go on holidays to European Union countries like Greece, said he wanted France to stay in the bloc.

Macron and Le Pen remain the top contenders. "There is a shocking discrepancy here".

He has established a reputation as an often aggressive anti-establishment figure who like Le Pen scorns globalisation and the political elite, while firmly rejecting her hardline rhetoric on immigration and Islam.

  • Zachary Reyes