France's centrist presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron kept his position as favourite to win the upcoming election after a televised debate on Tuesday night. Up against his main far-right rival Marine Le Pen, he clashed over France's position on Europe.
Just 19 days before the election, polls suggest that Macron is the favourite candidate to win, and this was supported by a snap survey after the debate that placed him as the second most convincing performer in the four-hour marathon of 11 candidates.
"Nationalism is war. I know it. I come from a region that is full of graveyards," Macron said in criticism of Le Pen, the leader of the eurosceptic National Front. Macron comes from the Somme region, a major battlefield in World War One.
Le Pen, who wants to leave the euro, hold a referendum on European Union membership and curb immigration, in return accused Macron of "speaking like old fossils that are at least 50 years old."
Macron replied by saying that his rival was repeating "the same lies" uttered by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder of the National Front, for 40 years.
The snap poll following the debate placed Le Pen in fourth as the most convincing performer, two places behind Macron.
But the night belonged to firebrand leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon, a veteran of France's political circuit, who took first place.
Other surveys prior to the debate have consistently shown Macron and Le Pen qualifying for the May 7 runoff and Macron winning it. But the high level of undecided voters means the ballot remains unpredictable.
Macron has benefitted from the scandal-hit campaign of Francois Fillon, the main centre-right candidate, and a crisis within the Socialist Party.
Fillon, a 63-year-old conservative former prime minister, and his wife are being investigated over the allegations, although they deny any wrongdoing.
Le Pen in February used her immunity as EU lawmaker to refuse to go to a police summons over allegations she had made illegal EU payments to her staff.