Marine Le Pen's proposal to pull France out of the euro and her hardline stance on Islam came under attack from her fellow presidential hopefuls on Monday, in a combative TV debate a month before the country goes to the polls.
France's election is shaping up as the most unpredictable in decades, with far-right National Front (FN) leader Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron tied in polls for the April 23 first round, while the mainstream left and right languish in third and fourth place.
With polls showing Macron, 39, would easily beat the anti-immigration Le Pen, 48, in a decisive run-off vote on May 7, he had been expected to take the most heat in Monday's TV battle.
But it was Le Pen who was repeatedly thrust onto the defensive as Macron, conservative nominee Francois Fillon, the Socialist Party's Benoit Hamon and fifth-placed leftist radical Jean-Luc Melenchon all tore into her programme.
Immediately after the debate Macron was seen as the most convincing of the top five election contenders in the debate according to an opinion poll.
Twenty-nine percent of viewers thought Macron was the most convincing, ahead of all contenders, the Elabe poll showed.
Fillon said that Le Pen's proposal to ditch the euro and bring back the French franc would cause "economic and social chaos."
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 — Francois Fillon
Le Pen – who has been buoyed by Donald Trump's election in the US and Britain's decision to leave the EU – accused Fillon of scaremongering.
"That's called Project Fear, Mr Fillon. It was used before Brexit," said Le Pen, who has pledged a similar referendum on France's EU membership.
Setting out her vision of a France which defends its interests "without being lectured by a supranational body," Le Pen, who has accused Germany of dictating to the rest of Europe, said, "I have no desire to be Mrs Merkel's deputy."
TRT World's Sarah Morice has more details.
Former economy minister Macron noted that "all those who said Brexit will be wonderful ... ran away and hid."
Macron also traded barbs with Le Pen on the Islamic full-body swimsuit.
The so-called burkini was at the centre of a furore in France last summer after several coastal towns banned the garment.
Le Pen said the burkini was a sign of the "rise of radical Islam in our country" and accused Macron of supporting it.
"The burkini is a public order problem. Do not use it to divide the French," former economy minister Macron retorted, accused her of transforming "the over four million French people, whose religion is Islam ... into enemies of the Republic."
Hamon, for his part, took issue with Le Pen's claim that public schools are wracked by violence, calling her remarks "nauseating."
A total of 11 candidates are running for president. Six smaller candidates were excluded from Monday's debate.
Millions of voters are still undecided after five years of unpopular Socialist rule under Francois Hollande, marked by high unemployment, low economic growth and a spate of attacks that has killed over 230 people.
The election could hinge on turnout.
Polls show that only around 65 percent of voters are planning to vote in the first round in what would be a record low. The surveys also show voters being unusually fickle.