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new french revolution; Centre-left Macron is favourite Le Pen cuts far-right party ties.

Byline: andy lines Chief Reporter in Paris

FRENCH Presidential favourite Emmanuel Macron faces a bitter 12-day battle as he attempts to fight off his far-right rival.

Marine Le Pen is desperate to topple the centre-left candidate, yesterday dubbed the "French John F Kennedy".

In a surprise move last night, Le Pen said she was stepping down as head of her National Front party.

In an apparent attempt to distance herself from its racist element, Le Pen announced: "Tonight, I am no longer the president of the National Front. I am the presidential candidate."

It comes after the victory of the two election outsiders - the first time in 60 years none of France's mainstream parties have progressed beyond the first round. And political experts say the future of Europe is at stake as Le Pen, nicknamed Madame Frexit, has pledged to take the country out of the EU if she becomes President. Bookies have Macron as favourite, with William Hill pricing him at 1/8 - odds virtually unheard of in a presidential election. Three polls have him at more than 20 points ahead. If victorious, the 39-year-old would be France's youngest ever president.

Yet the next week and a half, before the May 7 final showdown between the pair, is likely to be volatile.

French police fear a terror attack which could put the election outcome in doubt. Le Pen, 48, yesterday accused Macron of being weak on terrorism.

Her announcement follows past statements that she is not a candidate of her party. The far-right leader made that point again when she rolled out her platform in February, saying the measures she was espousing were those of her own. But as supporters celebrated her victory on Sunday, anti-fascist demonstrators took to the streets of Paris. Police said six officers and three protesters were injured and 29 people arrested in clashes.

Current French President Francois Hollande last night implored the public not to vote for Le Pen. In a brief televised address, he said: "What is at stake is France's make-up, its unity, its membership of Europe and its place in the world." He joined political figures in backing Macron - a man who married his former teacher, Brigitte Trogneux.

They first met when Macron was 15, in Amiens, northern France, and became close when she was his drama teacher.

Brigitte, 24 years his senior, rarely gives interviews but said: "Being married to a politician is not easy to manage. One must remain standing and be silent." Macron has never stood in an election and only started his En Marche! (On the Move) movement last year. Yet he received support from across the world yesterday.

In a highly unusual move, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Macron represented pro-European values while Le Pen "seeks its destruction".

Alexander Lambsdorff, an EU Parliament Vice-President, accused Le Pen of being "a nationalist, a racist", adding: "I know the woman from the European Parliament, a very unpleasant person."

Referring to Macron, he said he hoped "this independent, fresh French John F Kennedy, if you like, succeeds in setting policy with his ideas". While a spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the boost for Macron showed "France and Europe can win together".

andy.lines@mirror.co.uk

What is at stake is France's unity and its place in the world PRESIDENT HOLLANDE WARNS AGAINST LE PEN

CAPTION(S):

PROTESTS Riot police clash with anti-fascist demonstraters in Paris, Sunday

POPULIST Le Pen poses for selfie yesterday

NOW The married pair after vote result

THEN Macron aged 15 kisses his then teacher Brigitte
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Apr 25, 2017
Words:594
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