France’s presidential candidates have started debating on national television in their only televised one-to-one before the run-off election. The far-right leader of the National Front party, Marine Le Pen, and independent centrist Emmanuel Macron sat at a table facing each other, with photos of the Elysee Palace projected behind them.
They are being questioned in the debate by two journalists from TF1 and France 2, the country’s major television channels. Both candidates came out swinging in their opening remarks.
Mr Macron said the populist Ms Le Pen, daughter of former extreme-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, “prospers on the anger of the French”.
She tore into Mr Macron as an ally of the world of finance and declared herself “the candidate of the people, of the France that we love”. “You lie all the time,” he said. “You propose nothing.”
She dismissed his economic proposals with sweeping critiques and bristled at his suggestions that she did not understand how finance and business works.
“You’re trying to play with me like a professor with a pupil,” she said. Sitting opposite each other at a round table, neither pulled their punches. With both talking over each other, the debate quickly became a shouting match at times, with no common ground between the pro-European Union centrist candidate and the anti-EU Ms Le Pen.
Ms Le Pen accused her centrist rival of being “complacent” about Islamic fundamentalists.
She said: “We must eradicate the Islamist ideology.” She has pledged to shut down a powerful fundamentalist federation linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, known as the Union of Islamic Organisations in France (UOIF), and said it supports Mr Macron.
Ms Le Pen has also proposed a series of measures to stamp out the possibility of another new terrorist attack in France, including expelling all foreigners with a record and revoking the French citizenship of dual-nationals under suspicion. She suggested Mr Macron was “waiting for an attack” rather than taking proactive measures.