France's Macron heads for runoff with Le Pen in May

The two politicians left in the race offer radically contrasting economic visions for a countrywhose economy lags that of its neighbors and where a quarter of young people are unemployed.

"The main thing at stake in this election is the rampant globalization that is endangering our civilization", she added while calling herself "the candidate for the people".

The center ground has held in France as presidential favorite Emmanuel Macron, the former economy minister, emerged Sunday with an unexpectedly strong lead over far-right leader Marine Le Pen ahead of the run-off to choose the French head of state on May 7.

With Le Pen wanting France to leave the European Union and Macron wanting even closer cooperation between the bloc's 28 nations, Sunday's outcome meant the May 7 runoff will have undertones of a referendum on France's European Union membership.

"I want to be the president of patriots against the threat of nationalists", the 39-year old centrist told a cheering crowd of supporters.

The pair will now go head-to-head in the second and final round of voting on May 7. In a defiant speech to supporters, he said he would continue to await the results from France's cities.

Fillon conceded defeat and urged voters to back Macron, saying Le Pen would bankrupt France if elected.

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Le Pen, 48, known for her anti-immigration rhetoric, has vowed to take France out of EU.

He also cited the history of "violence and intolerance" of Le Pen's far-right National Front party, founded by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who was trounced in the presidential runoff in 2002.

"He represents France's future, a future within Europe", she said.

Political analysts say Macron's apparent win today showed that many French people still believe in a more liberal, open, global society even as populists have won big victories in the a year ago with the United Kingdom's vote to leave the European Union and Donald Trump's election in the United States.

At a French cultural centre in Montreal, both applause and boos rang out as a French TV station announced its projections just after the vote closed at 2 p.m.

This victory for the pollsters is particularly good for the euro as nearly all the pollsters are predicting a decisive victory for Emmanuel Macron in the second round when he is expected to beat Madame Le pen by 62-38 percent.

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