Independent centrist Emmanuel Macron triumphed against far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen in their final TV debate that saw both trading insults, ahead of the French presidential runoff on Sunday, the media reported.

Just after Le Pen left the TV studios on Wednesday night, accusing Macron, 39, of “lies and aggression”, snap polling by Elabe for the local BFMTV found that a clear majority of French people felt the centrist candidate had been the most convincing with 63 per cent against Le Pen, The Guardian reported.

Polls this week conducted before the TV debate showed Macron leading by 60 per cent to 40 per cent before the final-round vote.

In the prolonged two-and-a-half-hour “slanging” match that featured more invectives than any other debate in French presidential history, Macron branded Le Pen ill-informed, corrupt, dangerously nationalistic and a “hate-filled” liar who “fed off France’s misery” and would bring “civil war” to France.

She in turn called the former Economy Minister an arrogant, spoilt, cold-eyed, “smirking banker” who was colluding with Islamists, complacent on terrorism and intent on “butchering France” in favour of “big economic interests”.

The candidates sat across from each other during the debate — often speaking over each other as moderators tried unsuccessfully to interrupt them, reports CNN.

At one point, Le Pen chastised her younger opponent.

“Don’t play with me,” she said. “Don’t play teacher and pupil. It’s not my thing.”

The candidates also traded barbs on the highly charged issue of terrorism.

Le Pen vowed to immediately expel all foreigners identified on a terror watch list and to strip people suspected of Islamic extremism of their French nationality.

“We have to make sure the territory is protected,” CNN quoted Le Pen as saying. “That is something I would do.”

In response, Macron vowed that the fight against terrorism would be his first priority and said: “Putting everyone in prison or sending them abroad does not make any sense to me”.

The two candidates also voiced divergent views on diplomatic relations with Russia and the US.

Le Pen called Russia a “great nation”, while Macron expressed his willingness to work with both the countries.

They also clashed on the future of the European Union (EU).

Le Pen said Macron as President would allow France to be crushed by its economically powerful neighbour Germany, while he attacked her over her muddled stance on the euro, reports The Guardian.

The debate marked the first time a French presidential runoff candidate has accepted an invitation to debate a far-right opponent.

If Macron comes to power, he will be the youngest French leader since Napoleon while Le Pen would be the first female head.

Just two days of campaigning remain before reporting restrictions come into force late on Friday evening – and remain in place until polls close on Sunday.

First Published | 4 May 2017 9:05 AM
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