Macron, Le Pen lead in 1st round of French presidential elections

Emmanuel Macron of the centrist En Marche! movement and Marine Le Pen of the National Front have advanced to the second round of the presidential elections in France, preliminary Interior Ministry data shows.

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Macron won 23.75 percent of the votes, while his rival Le Pen got 21.53 percent, the Interior Ministry final figured showed, as cited by Reuters.

Republican Francois Fillon and independent leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon got 19.91 percent and 19.64 percent, respectively.

The French Interior Ministry published a map showing the areas of the country where the candidates are in the lead.

Northern and eastern France showed support for Marine Le Pen, while western and southwestern France said ‘Oui’ to Emmanuel Macron.

On Sunday evening, Macron addressed his supporters, telling the crowd: “In one year, we have changed the face of French politics.”

He thanked the millions who voted for him and former competitors Francois Fillon (Republican party) and Benoit Hamon (Socialist party) for their endorsement in the second-round runoff.

Marine Le Pen, in her turn addressed her supporters, saying that a great debate about globalization can now finally take place. She also said that she will "free the French people from arrogant elites," adding that the country's "survival is at stake."

Left-wing socialist Melenchon called for "restraint" over any preliminary results. Saying that he does not yet accept defeat, the candidate refused to validate any but the official results of the voting, which, he said, will be "respected."

After the full official results of the first round of voting are announced on Wednesday, April 26, at 5pm Paris time, the top two candidates will then proceed to a run-off vote on May 7.

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France's Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve has called on all democrats to vote for Macron in the second round.

Speaking at his campaign HQ following the voting, Les Republicains’ Francois Fillon called for a vote for Macron in the second round. Saying that "extremism can bring nothing but pain," in an apparent reference to Macron's main rival, the National Front's Le Pen, Fillon said he would not abstain while "an extremist" party is approaching power.

A former investment banker who served as economics minister in President Francois Hollande's Socialist government, Emmanuel Macron has been among the most favored to win the presidency.

Described as an independent centrist, the millionaire quit Hollande's party to form his own En Marche! (Onwards!) movement last year. 

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The 39-year-old received an apparent call of support from former US President Barack Obama earlier this month, though Obama's spokesperson said he is "not making any formal endorsement" in the race.

Marcon is pro-European union, rallying for France to stay within the Schengen zone. He aims to cut corporate taxes, reduce public spending by €60 billion (US$64.3 billion), and cut 120,000 public sector jobs.

He has spoken of reforming labor laws and getting tougher on unemployment benefit recipients who have repeatedly turned down job offers.

Reacting to the first unofficial results of the Sunday voting, French lawmaker Marion Marechal Le Pen, who is the niece of Marine Le Pen, called the election "a historic victory for patriots."

READ MORE: Le Pen vows to challenge ‘savage globalization’ in final push ahead of French presidential vote

The leader of the far-right National Front party, Marine Le Pen has become well known for speaking out against France's current position within the EU. Her views have prompted many to fear the country will follow in Britain's footsteps with a so-called “Frexit.”

Le Pen has, however, stated that she would first seek to revise France's terms with the EU, and would then ask for a referendum which would allow the people to decide whether they want to remain in the bloc. She says EU membership has stripped France of its autonomy, on topics including immigration, monetary, and fiscal policy.

The candidate has also hit out at mass immigration, Islamic fundamentalism and financial globalization.

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