Projections: Le Pen, Macron lead in French vote

Over 50,000 police and 7,000 soldiers backed by rapid response units patrolled streets three days after a suspected Islamist gunman shot dead a policeman and wounded two others in the heart of the capital, Paris.

Fillon denies any wrongdoing, but his place as frontrunner has been usurped by a man many consider to be the future of France.

Voting took place amid heightened security in the first election under France's state of emergency, which has been in place since gun-and-bomb attacks in Paris in 2015.

His three close rivals, according to voting surveys, are the anti-EU, anti-immigration National Front leader Marine Le Pen, who would dump the euro currency and return to national ones, far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, who wants France to rip up global trade treaties and quit NATO, and the conservative Francois Fillon, whose reputation has been sullied by a nepotism scandal.

Defeated conservative candidate Francois Fillon said he would vote for Mr Macron on May 7 because Ms Le Pen's programme "would bankrupt France" and throw the European Union into chaos.

US President Donald Trump said on Twitter that the first round of French presidential election will be "very interesting", a contest that is widely acknowledged to be the most up-in-the-air and unpredictable in recent years.

Current president, Francois Hollande, called Mr Macron to congratulate him.

At 05.00 pm (0300GMT), the Ministry said that 69.42 percent of eligible voters had cast their ballots, compared to 70.6 percent in 2012, but considerably up than 2002 with the abstention rate reaching a record level at 28 percent, when the then National Front leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, made it to the run-off before he was beaten by conservative candidate Jacques Chirac.

Despite predictions of low voter turnout, witnesses said lines formed at voting stations in Paris' 15th arrondissement before opening hours and turnout was reported to be heavy at various polling stations across the country.

But Yanis Olive, a 35-year-old photographer voting in Paris, said security was not "a major issue" - unemployment and the economy were more important.

With two anti-globalisation candidates whose policies could break up the European Union among the four frontrunners, the vote is of major significance to the worldwide political status quo and to investment markets.

"The result will cast uncertainties on France's policies on China", Wang said.

A French exit of either would be far worse than Britain's - it could spell death for the EU, the euro and the whole idea of European unity borne from the blood of World War II. On Sunday, both parties together won less than half that - only 26 percent. "He will win because he is able to unite people from the right and the left against the threat of the National Front and he proposes real solutions for France's economy".

In Le Pen's northern bastion of Henin-Beaumont, several activists from the feminist group Femen were arrested Sunday after staging a topless protest against her. Police intervened and stopped the commotion minutes before the candidate arrived to cast her ballot.

He voted in the chic Normandy seaside resort of Le Touquet with wife Brigitte, his former high school teacher who is 25 years his senior.

But Fillon's wife, the scandal-hit Penelope Fillon, was conspicuously absent from her husband's side and voted 250 kilometres (155 miles) away near their 14th century manor house in Sarthe. She is facing preliminary charges for her role in the fake jobs scandal that has rocked her husband's presidential campaign.

Dozens of people lined up to vote Sunday inside the French Embassy in Cairo, where many expats work for French companies and schools.

French overseas territories and residents in some USA states such as Hawaii began voting on Saturday in the French presidential election, a day ahead of a main first-round vote that could change the global political landscape. "As such, there is no other choice than to vote against the extreme right".

One retired American in Paris urged her neighbours to make their voices count Sunday.

"I think that it's important that every French voter gets out and votes today. did you see what happened in the United States?" Campaigns can change minds, and polls can be off, but the surge of support Le Pen would need to win on May 7 would be unprecedented.

  • Leroy Wright