FRENCH ELECTION: Far-right candidate Le Pen makes it in to final two
- Credit: PA Wire/PA Images
Pro-EU centrist Emmanuel Macron will face far-right Marine Le Pen in a head-to-head battle for the French presidency.
Macron, who quit current president Francois Hollande's Socialists only last year ago to launch a new party, led the way with 23.7% of the first round vote, according to an exit poll by Ipsos and Sopra Steria.
He led his Front National challenger Le Pen (21.7%) by 2%, with scandal-plagued Gaullist Francois Fillon and far-left challenger Jean-Luc Melenchon tied in third on 19.5%.
Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon trailed in a distant fifth with just 6.2% of the vote.
The final round has already been billed as France's EU referendum with pro-EU Macron taking on Le Pen who has muted a vote on France's membership of the union if she wins power.
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The risk of a victory by Le Pen prompted centre right politicians including Fillon and Socialist prime minister Bernard Cazeneuve to urge supporters to back Macron in the second round of voting on May 7.
The last opinion polls before voting opened showed Le Pen and Mr Macron narrowly ahead of Fillon and Melenchon, in what was billed as one of the most unpredictable elections in generations.
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Pro-European Macron was the Socialist finance minister until the autumn, when he quit to set up the En Marche movement, which he defines as centrist, and which has attracted support from left, centre and right.
The anti-EU Le Pen's campaign majored on jobs, security and the threat from Islamic extremism.
It also saw her deny French state complicity rounding up Jews for the Nazis in the Second World War, but she also picked up muted plaudits from US President Donald Trump.
Speaking at the White House after a terrorist attack on Paris last week left a policeman dead, Trump said she was 'strongest on borders, and she's the strongest on what's been going on in France'.
The country is going to the polls to elect the successor to Hollande, who is not running after serving a single term in office.
Earlier, thousands of French expatriates had queued for hours at polling stations in London to cast their votes.
There were already long queues around the block at the Lycee Francais Charles de Gaulle, near the Natural History Museum in Kensington, London, before the polling stations opened at 8am.
Polling stations have also been set up cities including Birmingham, Bristol, Belfast, Leeds, Manchester and Edinburgh for the large expatriate community to cast their votes, with 70 polling stations in total across the UK.