Macron, Le Pen Clash In Pre-Election Showdown

PARIS (Reuters) -

Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel& Macron clashed over their vision of France’s future and ways of handling terrorism in an ill-tempered broadcasted debate on Wednesday ahead of Sunday’s run-off vote for the presidency.

The two went into the debate with opinion polls showing& Macron, 39, maintaining a strong lead of 20 percentage points over the National Front’s Le Pen, 48, in what is widely seen as France’s most important election in decades.

For Le Pen, the debate, watched by millions, was a last major chance to persuade voters of the merits of her program that includes cracking down on illegal immigration and ditching the euro currency.

In angry exchanges, Le Pen played up& Macron’s background as a former investment banker and economy minister, painting him as a continuation of the outgoing unpopular Socialist government and a backer of rampant globalization. He accused her of not offering solutions to problems such as France’s chronic unemployment.

But the sharpest exchange was over national security, a sensitive issue in a country where more than 230 people have been killed by Islamist terrorists since 2015.

Le Pen accused& Macron& of being complacent in confronting the threat of Islamist fundamentalism. “You have no plan (on security) but you are indulgent with Islamist fundamentalism,” she said.

Macron& retorted that terrorism would be his priority if he is elected and accused Le Pen of being simplistic. “What you are proposing is snake oil,” he said, referring to her proposals to close France’s borders.

“I will lead a fight against Islamist terrorism at every level. But what they are wanting, the trap they are holding out for us, is the one that you offer — civil war,” he said.