French election: Macron and Le Pen clash in televised debate

The two candidates for the French presidency have gone head to head in their only televised debate, ahead of Sunday’s second-round run-off vote.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen has fallen behind centrist Emmanuel Macron in the opinion polls but millions of voters are still undecided.

It did not take long for the two-hour-45-minute clash to burst into life.

The candidates confronted each other on the cost of living, Russia, climate change and immigration.

Around 15.6 million viewers watched the debate, in which Macron accused his rival of being dependent on Russian power while Marine Le Pen called him a hypocrite on climate change.

Spiralling prices have dominated the campaign and immediately took centre stage in the debate.

Macron was widely seen as the winner of the pair’s 2017 encounter, when his rival appeared flustered and underprepared. But this time, Le Pen was ready from the start and far more composed.

Throughout the debate, it was Macron who went on the offensive, appearing more like a challenger than an incumbent, repeatedly interrupting his rival.

Le Pen said 70 per cent of the French people believed their standard of living had fallen over the past five years and she would be the president of civil peace and national brotherhood. “We need to give priority to the French in their own country,” she said.

Macron said France had known unprecedented crisis, with COVID-19, followed by war in Europe. He had steered France through those challenges and aimed to make France a stronger country: the vote was a “referendum on Europe, on secularism, and a moment of clear choice”, he said.

Despite a strong performance from Le Pen, a snap Elabe poll of voters suggested 59 per cent of viewers thought Macron had come out the winner. (BBC)

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