French candidates hold election rallies

Rival French presidential candidates Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen have appealed to voters at large rallies in Paris on Monday, a week out from the first round of voting.

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Centrist Macron called for a “confident France” and defended his pro-European position, rejecting what he sees as the backward-looking stances of his rivals.

“Of 11 candidates, 10 want to take us back to a fantasy vision of the past,” he told the 20,000-strong crowd. “I am for both a strong France and an ambitious Europe.”

In a raucous atmosphere, Macron’s speech was regularly interrupted by chants of “we will win.”

The former economy minister reiterated his desire for a “solid and equal alliance” with Germany.

It comes after Macron criticised neighbour Germany’s disproportionate economic power in the European Union in a Monday interview with German media, saying the current situation “isn’t good for (Germany’s) own economy, nor for the economy in the eurozone.”

Meanwhile, the anti-EU Le Pen gave her speech in a 6,000-capacity hall in Paris.

She is currently just ahead of Macron in polling before the first round vote on Sunday, although her lead has shrunk recently.

“My first decision as president will be to hand over the borders to France,” Le Pen told her audience.

“Mass immigration is not a chance for France, but a drama.”

The mood in the hall was, at times, heated, with supporters regularly chanting “We are at home”. The rally was interrupted twice by protests from topless activists – one of them even reached the stage.

Near the venue, people protesting against Le Pen clashed with police, who reportedly used tear gar to disperse a few dozen protesters.

Conservative candidate Francois Fillon spoke to voters in Nice on Monday, while leftist politician Jean-Luc Melenchon – whose support has jumped strongly in the last few weeks – performed a boat tour through Paris in an attempt to garner voters’ attention.

The two candidates with the most votes in this Sunday’s election will then progress to a run-off vote on May 7.