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Macron, Le Pen in French TV debate
21 March 2017, 11:13 | Terri Saunders
French candidates can agree that economy is running behind
The first round is set for April 23; the top two candidates go to a runoff May 7.
Twenty-nine percent of viewers thought Macron was the most convincing, ahead of firebrand leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon with 20 percent, while conservative Francois Fillon and far-right leader Marine Le Pen were tied in third place with 19 percent, the Elabe poll showed.
The frontrunners continued to lock horns after Ms Le Pen said many French voters are not represented.
"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.
Supporters of Mr. Macron, who styles himself as a progressive transcending France's entrenched left-right divide, are among the most volatile while Ms. Le Pen's are the most loyal, polls show.
"I completely disagree with Emmanuel Macron who praised the German chancellor when he was in Berlin for (refugee) policies that turned out to be bad policies and which are now criticised by her own allies in Germany", Fillon said in a slap at his centrist rival. After a thinly veiled dig from Le Pen suggesting that the former banker would be beholden to financial lobbies if elected, Macron told her: "You'd be bored without me".
Macron also used humour to defuse Le Pen's attacks.
The so-called burkini was at the centre of a furore in France last summer after several coastal towns banned the garment, with local authorities calling it a "provocation" in the wake of a series of jihadist attacks.
Le Pen said the burkini was a sign of the "rise of radical Islam in our country" and accused Macron of supporting it. "Do not use it to divide the French", former economy minister Macron retorted.
Hamon described Le Pen's attitude as "sickening" after she spoke of French schools as "a daily nightmare", so risky that pupils attend with "fear in their stomachs".
Still with another debate to come involving all 11 candidates there is still plenty to play for and in this election race, anything could happen yet.
Fillon, a one-time frontrunner who has fallen back over by a scandal surrounding the employment of his wife as a parliamentary assistant, has been put under formal investigation, a first for a French presidential candidate. Previous debates for the primaries were watched by up to 8.5 million people.
But Le Pen, the anti-immigration, anti-European Union leader of the National Front, was looking for opportunities to pounce.
The trained lawyer has worked hard to purge the National Front of the anti-Semitism and overt racism bequeathed by her father.
Opinion polls have for weeks shown Le Pen and Macron pulling away from the pack in an election full of twists and turns which is taking place against a backdrop of high unemployment and sluggish growth.
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