Sunday 20 August 2017

Le Pen and Macron come out swinging in heated TV debate

A television screen shows the live debate with Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron (Bob Edme/AP)
A television screen shows the live debate with Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron (Bob Edme/AP)
Emmanuel Macron is favourite to become president. (AP/Michel Spingler)

French presidential candidates Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen have faced off in a high stakes, high pressure and immediately heated head-to-head debate on live primetime TV.

Both candidates came out swinging in what is their best remaining chance to sell their polar-opposite visions and plans for France to the cohort of undecided electors who could sway Sunday's vote.

Ms Le Pen painted the former banker and economy minister as a servant of big business and finance, and declared herself "the candidate of the people, of the France that we love".

Mr Macron painted the far-right nationalist as an empty shell, shaky on details and seeking to profit politically from the anger of French voters - a dominant theme of the campaign.

"You lie all the time," he said. "You propose nothing."

She dismissed his economic proposals with sweeping critiques and bristled at his suggestions that she did not understand how finance and business works.

"You're trying to play with me like a professor with a pupil," she said.

Sitting opposite each other at a round table, neither pulled their punches.

With both talking over each other, the debate quickly became a shouting match at times, with no common ground between the pro-European Union centrist candidate and the anti-EU Ms Le Pen.

Ms Le Pen accused her centrist rival of being "complacent" about Islamic fundamentalists.

She said: "We must eradicate the Islamist ideology."

She has pledged to shut down a powerful fundamentalist federation linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, known as the Union of Islamic Organisations in France (UOIF), and said it supports Mr Macron.

Ms Le Pen has also proposed a series of measures to stamp out the possibility of another new terrorist attack in France, including expelling all foreigners with a record and revoking the French citizenship of dual-nationals under suspicion.

She suggested Mr Macron was "waiting for an attack" rather than taking proactive measures.

Mr Macron said Ms Le Pen would lead France to civil war and give Islamic extremists what they want by infringing on the rights of Muslim residents.

He said she would deliver "what the terrorists expect - it's civil war, it's division, it's heinous speech".

Mr Macron insisted he would be "inflexible" and "fight against Islamic terrorism on every front" without exacerbating the problem.

Press Association

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