Macron and Le Pen clash in presidential debate

French Socialist party 2017 presidential candidate Benoit Hamon

France's election is shaping up as the most unpredictable in decades, with far-right National Front (FN) leader Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron tied in polls for the April 23 first round, while the mainstream left and right languish in third and fourth place.

N'DJAMENA/PARIS French far-right leader Marine Le Pen will meet Chad's President Idriss Deby on Tuesday as she looks to bolster her foreign policy credentials with a key ally in the fight against Islamist militants, her National Front party said.

"Stop immigration, and I will not make any excuses for that", she said, stressing that France's security situation is "explosive" and measures need to be taken "to discourage immigration".

For the run-off, the polls predicted Macron would comfortably beat Le Pen.

This was an improvement of 0.5 percent in his position in an Elabe poll on Monday conducted before the debate, while Le Pen lost 0.5 percent.

The name of Emmanuel Macron was the most typed on the search engine, with 30% of the queries.

Le Pen retorted: "That's called Project Fear, Mr Fillon. It was used before Brexit", shot back Le Pen, who has pledged a referendum on France's European Union membership.

Socialist candidate Hamon, 49, attracted a crowd of 20,000 to a Paris rally on Sunday, but with his staunchly leftist platform he is seen by many as representing the rump of a party in disarray. Mentioning the case of autism, which is not a recognised condition in France, Ms Le Pen said that, in her view, Belgium, Switzerland and Canada were highlighting the French incompetence around the illness.

Francois Fillon, left, and his wife Penelope arrive for the debate. He really needed to do well in this debate, trying to revive this campaign after weeks of legal woes and allegations.

Roth told the radio broadcaster that French President Francois Hollande had begun needed reforms, but more work was needed to reverse the gains made by Le Pen.

The Quotidien TV show said on Monday that Le Roux had paid a combined total of 55,000 euros ($59,455) between 2009 and 2016 to his two daughters as parliamentary assistants during summer vacations, starting from when they were 15 and 16.

Known as a passionate advocate of France who wants to follow Britain out of the EU, Le Pen vowed that she will not become "the vice chancellor of Madame Merkel" or "the salesperson for a multinational group".

Television debates were key to Fillon's victory in the centre-right primaries in November and to Benoit Hamon in the Socialist primaries in January.

The debate on the migration crisis and the consequent challenges of integrating newcomers, which was one of the central topics discussed during the three-hour-long event, saw the candidates resorting to personal attacks at times.

Fillon rejected that decision by broadcasters TF1 et LCI, saying in his opening remarks " We are 11 candidates, here there are only five, it's a question of democracy.

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