Incumbent Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen came out on top in the first round of presidential vote, setting up an April 24 replay of their duel in 2017.

Macron trounced Le Pen five years ago in the presidential runoff but all opinion polls show the leader of the National Rally is much closer this time to a potential win.
Macron trounced Le Pen five years ago in the presidential runoff but all opinion polls show the leader of the National Rally is much closer this time to a potential win. (AP)

French President Emmanuel Macron has kicked off a two-week battle against far-right challenger Marine Le Pen ahead of the country's presidential runoff vote.

Macron declared on Monday that he wants to “convince" a broad range of French voters to back his centrist vision.

Le Pen, meanwhile, is ready for the fight, planning to highlight rising prices for energy and food that have hit poorer households especially hard recently as Macron has focused his efforts on seeking diplomatic solutions to the conflict in Ukraine.

The two candidates came out on top in Sunday's first-round presidential vote, setting up an April 24 replay of their duel in 2017. 

Macron trounced Le Pen five years ago in the presidential runoff but all opinion polls show the leader of the National Rally is much closer this time to a potential win.

The French election outcome will have wide international influence as Europe struggles to contain the havoc wreaked by Russia's offensive in Ukraine. Macron has strongly backed European Union sanctions on Russia while Le Pen has worried about their impact on French living standards. 

Macron also is a firm supporter of NATO and of close collaboration among the EU's 27 members.

READ MORE: Macron, Le Pen head for cliffhanger French election runoff

"Determined to fight"

Macron headed Monday to an economically depressed area of northern France where a majority of voters had chosen Le Pen, close to her electoral stronghold of Henin-Beaumont.

“I'm here, and I'm determined to fight," the 44-year-old president said during his visit to the town of Denain, adding that he heard the concerns of people who struggle to find a job and earn more money.

“They need to be reassured,” he said.

Protecting purchasing power

For her part, Le Pen met with National Rally officials to plan strategy for runoff. 

Later Monday, Le Pen was to visit a cereal producer in the Burgundy region to speak about rising prices and making “strong, urgent decisions to protect the purchasing power of the French." 

The topic has been at the core of her campaign this year, but Macron’s team argues that, due to the economic impact of the conflict in Ukraine, Le Pen wouldn’t have the financial means to meet her campaign promises.

Macron said he wants to court those who voted for the "extremes" or opted to stay at home. He met with residents in Denain, many of whom criticised his proposed pension changes, which include raising the minimum retirement age from 62 to 65.

Denain Mayor Anne-Lise Dufour-Tonini told reporters she will vote for Macron 'with no hesitation" in the second round, but intends to push for him to adopt more “leftist proposals."

READ MORE: Voters hope next French president will reunite country

Many of the 10 presidential candidates who were defeated in the first round on Sunday encouraged voters to choose Macron in the second round, including conservative candidate Valerie Pecresse, and the Green and Socialist candidates. Pecresse warned of “the chaos that would ensue” if Le Pen was elected. 

Far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, who came in third in Sunday's vote, urged voters not to choose Le Pen, implicitly suggesting that staying at home could be an option.

Le Pen was backed by the other far-right candidate, former TV pundit Eric Zemmour.

Macron and Le Pen are to debate on national television next week. 

READ MORE: Thousands protest racism, police brutality in France

Source: AP