French candidates face off in first debate

While polls show that Le Pen would finish in the top two at the first round on April 23, they also show that she would be handily beaten in the May 7 runoff by either Macron or Fillon.

The top candidates in France's presidential election have clashed in a televised debate, with centrist Emmanuel Macron accusing far-right leader Marine Le Pen of lying and seeking to divide the French.

The UNDR, however, claims Le Pen is travelling to the Central African nation to ask for campaign funds from President Idriss D├ęby, and urged Chad to not show any sympathy for her candidacy.

Fillon said Le Pen's proposal to ditch the euro and bring back the French franc would cause "economic and social chaos". "I don't need a ventriloquist", he told her.

After the surprise of Britain's Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump in the United States, markets are nervous about the possibility of a Le Pen victory. "It was used before Brexit", shot back Le Pen, who has pledged a referendum on France's European Union membership.

While Le Pen stressed the importance of defense, promising to increase defense spending to three percent of French GDP by 2022, she also called for more independence from partners and alliances, saying that the French should "not let [others] decide for us".

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At the start of the debate, Macron, the 39-year-old former economy minister who has never run for election before, seemed subdued, perhaps more used to making speeches alone on stage than debating rivals.

That surprised many analysts, or at least those on BFM TV, who thought Macron failed to leave a mark on the debate and in the minds of viewers. "No, Madame Le Pen, don't put words in my mouth".

The so-called burkini was at the centre of a furore in France last summer after several coastal towns banned the garment.

"The burkini is a public order problem".

She said: "We have seven million unemployed people, nine million suffering from poverty".

His front-running status was reinforced by an endorsement from a junior minister in Socialist President Francois Hollande's administration, the first government member openly to back the independent politician in preference to the Socialist candidate, Benoit Hamon.

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Six other candidates were excluded according to Le Monde newspaper: Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, Nathalie Arthaud, Philippe Poutou, Jacques Cheminade, Jean Lassalle, Francois Asselineau.

Most people considered Macron had the most to lose from the live debate given his rise in the polls and volatility of his voters.

Le Pen is expected to visit some of the 4,000 French soldiers from the Operation Barkhane operating in five countries in the Sahel, but whose base is N'Djamena.

He praised pro-EU candidate Emmanuel Macron's performance in the recent presidential debate and described him as a staunch European but stopped short of openly calling for support for him.

The trained lawyer has worked hard to purge the National Front of the anti-Semitism and overt racism bequeathed by her father.

During the high profile debate, Ms Le Pen said: "There is an explosion of insecurity in France".

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That's the view of coach Leonardo Jardim, the architect of a staggering attack that has scored 126 goals this season. The Champions League quarter finals draw is complete leaving eight teams to contest four mouth-watering ties.

In the run-off voters rallied en masse behind Chirac.

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