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Far-left Melenchon on high ahead of French election debate

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Candidates in the French presidential elections aired competing European Union visions in a TV debate on Tuesday (4 April), with far-right leader Marine Le Pen coming under fire.

According to the poll, the gap between Le Pen and her chief rival, former economics minister and the founder of the political movement "En Marche!", Emmanuel Macron, is now just one percentage point.

The debate heated up when the candidates discussed the "moralization" of French politics.

Francois Fillon, the conservative candidate, said "Le Pen's economic policy will collapse as soon as the French people will decide to keep the European currency".

The clash and Macron's more combative performance could point to the tone and shape of the campaign ahead, with Macron and Le Pen having emerged as the clear frontrunners.

Asked whether Le Pen could make a shock win following a surge of populism in France, Guenole said the far-right leader is likely to lose the race.

Hard-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, who has performed well in the two televised debates so far, displaying a sharp wit, made further gains.

Macron was seen winning the presidency 62 per cent to Le Pen's 38 per cent, a margin that was down from 65 per cent to 35 per cent two weeks ago.

On November 8 of previous year, hours before votes were cast in the United States presidential election, Reuters ran the headline "Clinton has 90 percent chance of winning".

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Asked how they want to create jobs in a country where the unemployment rate has for years hovered around 10 percent, Macron promoted pro-free market views, in contrast with Le Pen and her support for protectionism. For Melenchon supporters, it's Hamon and then Macron.

Socialist Party candidate Benoit Hamon, unlikely to get beyond the election's first round, mocked Le Pen for "playing the victim".

Le Pen and the Nationalists can be expected to play on the country's fear of Islamists and migrants following major terror attacks in January and November 2015.

When Le Pen, 48, replied that Macron was defending the European Union by reverting to "old classics" of 50 years ago about Europe's peace-keeping record, Macron retorted with a rare attack on her father, former far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen. But the race for the Elysee remains one of the most unpredictable in memory with twists and surprises in which some big players have been marginalised and scandal has tainted others.

A French prosecutor is investigating the activities of the far-right National Front on a regional council in northern France, a judicial source said on Tuesday after a newspaper reported a top party official was suspected of being paid for fake work. There is a shocking discrepancy here."It was unclear whether a final debate scheduled for April 20 would take place, after several of the leading candidates said it was being held too close to the election itself".

Le Pen seemed convincing only for 11% of the French, that in essence corresponds to her electoral base.

Le Pen denies wrongdoing.

Macron, whom the daily Le Parisien on Tuesday dubbed "the man to beat", has warned that commentators were still underestimating Le Pen.

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