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Emmanuel Macron holds on to French presidency as he beats far right challenger Marine Le Pen

French President Emmanuel Macron was re-elected for a second five-year term tonight as he smashed his far-Right rival Marine Le Pen amid low turnout levels.

Mr Macron, the 44-year-old centrist, won with a 58.2% share of the vote – beating the far-Right Ms Le Pen, 53, on 41.8%, according to exit polls.

They are always extremely accurate in France, meaning major broadcasters and other media outlets called the Macron victory as soon as polls closed at 8pm local time on Sunday.

As he prepared to celebrate with a rally by the Eiffel Tower, supporters in Paris could be heard chanting ‘Five more years!’

Mr Macon was set to celebrate on the historic Champ de Mars underneath the blue-and-yellow flag of the European Union, as well as the French Tricolour.

Preparing to take pride-of-place alongside him was his wife, 69-year-old retired teacher Brigitte Macron.

Conceding defeat, Ms Le Pen told supporters at her campaign HQ in Paris: ‘We could have seen a great wind of freedom sweeping across this country, but the French people have said otherwise.

‘When we see the results of tonight’s election, we can nevertheless say we have been victorious. Millions have voted for us, and I want to thank all of them.’

Saying her National Rally party would remain a counterbalance to Mr Macron, Ms Le Pen said: ‘Those who voted for me overwhelmingly in this second round – I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. We will continue to defend the citizens of France, now like never before.’

By 7pm on Sunday, the turnout of those eligible to vote in the Macron-Le Pen second round was just 72% – the lowest since 1969.

This was the year Charles de Gaulle resigned as head of state, and only 69% turned up to vote Georges Pompidou into power.

This year’s abstention figure was 2.6% higher than in 2017 – when Mr Macron first beat Ms Le Pen to seal his first term.

Mr Macron is a passionate supporter of the EU, and now hopes to go on to become de-facto leader of the bloc, following the retirement of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

He will also be bracing himself for more rows with the British over a range of issues including the migrant boat crisis, and English Channel fishing rights.

Despite constantly leading the opinion polls, Macron had warned of a possible defeat comparable to Donald Trump winning the American presidency.

Macron – who once compared Britain’s democratic vote to leave the EU as ‘a crime’ – had also suggested that a low turnout might have seen him robbed of power.

Just before his re-election, Mr Macron said: ‘We must get used to far-Right ideas’.

He conceded that Ms Le Pen’s party – that National Rally – had increased its share of the vote since 2017, when he beat Ms Le Pen by a landslide 66%.

But he also said Ms Le Pen was unfit to replace him because her party was still paying money back to Russia following the invasion of Ukraine.

‘War is raging on the continent,’ he said during a TV debate last Wednesday, before snarling at Ms Le Pen: ‘You are in fact in Russia’s grip.’

Mr Macron also warned that Ms Le Pen risked sparking a ‘civil war’ with her plans to ban Muslim women from wearing headscarves in public, and Jewish men from wearing the kippah.

In turn, Ms Le Pen described the former merchant banker and financial civil servant as a ‘President of the Rich’ who was ‘contemptuous and very arrogant’.

Mr Macron used his own initials to create En Marche ! (On the Move!) his own political movement as recently as 2016, and is independent of any established party.

Ms Le Pen’s changed the name of her family party, the National Front, to National Rally in 2018, so as to try and soften its extremist image.

It was founded in 1972 by her father, the convicted racist and Holocaust denier, Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Mr Le Pen, who is now 93, was runner-up in the French presidential election on 2002, and carried on contesting elections afterwards until 2012.

This suggests that his daughter will also keep pushing to enter the Elysee Palace, and has no thoughts of retirement.

Mr Macron will now serve as France’s head of state until 2027 – a period of time which will include the Paris Olympics of 2024.

Presidents are only allowed two terms, meaning Mr Macron – by far the youngest head of state in modern French history – is likely to retire from politics before his 50th birthday.

His immediate predecessors as President – the Socialist Francois Hollande and the conservative Nicolas Sarkozy – were both forced out of office after a single term.

French President Emmanuel Macron was re-elected for a second five-year term tonight as he crushed his far-Right rival Marine Le Pen amid low turnout levels

Supporters react at the Eiffel Tower after the victory of French President and La Republique en Marche (LREM) party candidate in France's presidential election

Supporters react at the Eiffel Tower after the victory of French President and La Republique en Marche (LREM) party candidate in France’s presidential election

Mr Macron, the 44-year-old centrist, won with a 58.2% share of the vote – beating the far-Right Ms Le Pen, 53, on 41.8%, according to exit polls

Mr Macron, the 44-year-old centrist, won with a 58.2% share of the vote – beating the far-Right Ms Le Pen, 53, on 41.8%, according to exit polls

They are always extremely accurate in France, meaning major broadcasters and other media outlets called the Macron victory as soon as polls closed at 8pm local time on Sunday

They are always extremely accurate in France, meaning major broadcasters and other media outlets called the Macron victory as soon as polls closed at 8pm local time on Sunday

Conceding defeat, Ms Le Pen told supporters at her campaign HQ in Paris: ‘We could have seen a great wind of freedom sweeping across this country, but the French people have said otherwise'

Conceding defeat, Ms Le Pen told supporters at her campaign HQ in Paris: ‘We could have seen a great wind of freedom sweeping across this country, but the French people have said otherwise’

As he prepared to celebrate with a rally by the Eiffel Tower, supporters in Paris could be heard chanting ‘Five more years!’

As he prepared to celebrate with a rally by the Eiffel Tower, supporters in Paris could be heard chanting ‘Five more years!’

Marine Le Pen reacts as she sits with supporters in Paris, on April 24, 2022, following the announcement of the results

Marine Le Pen reacts as she sits with supporters in Paris, on April 24, 2022, following the announcement of the results

French President and candidate for re-election, Emmanuel Macron greets supporters as he arrives to vote in the second round of the 2022 French presidential election, at a polling station in Le Touquet, France, 24 April 2022

French President and candidate for re-election, Emmanuel Macron greets supporters as he arrives to vote in the second round of the 2022 French presidential election, at a polling station in Le Touquet, France, 24 April 2022

French far-right party Rassemblement National's (RN) presidential candidate Marine Le Pen (C) speaks with Sebastien Chenu before the first results of the second round of the Presidential election in Paris

French far-right party Rassemblement National’s (RN) presidential candidate Marine Le Pen (C) speaks with Sebastien Chenu before the first results of the second round of the Presidential election in Paris

French voters began casting their ballots Sunday for the presidential run-off between centrist incumbent Emmanuel Macron and his far-right challenger Marine Le Pen. Pictured: Marine Le Pen casts her vote during the second round of France's presidential election at a polling station in Henin-Beaumont, northern France, on April 24, 2022

French voters began casting their ballots Sunday for the presidential run-off between centrist incumbent Emmanuel Macron and his far-right challenger Marine Le Pen. Pictured: Marine Le Pen casts her vote during the second round of France’s presidential election at a polling station in Henin-Beaumont, northern France, on April 24, 2022

French President and centrist candidate for re-election Emmanuel Macron exits the voting booth at a polling station in Le Touquet, northern France, Sunday, April 24, 2022

French President and centrist candidate for re-election Emmanuel Macron exits the voting booth at a polling station in Le Touquet, northern France, Sunday, April 24, 2022 

French President Emmanuel Macron, candidate for his re-election, walks in the street as he leaves his home to vote in the second round of the 2022 French presidential election, in Le Touquet-Paris-Plage, France, April 24, 2022

Campaigning in her northern France stronghold in a last-ditch effort to close the gap last night, she lashed out at Macron’s planned pensions reform, which she described as an effort to make the French work forever

Campaigning in her northern France stronghold in a last-ditch effort to close the gap last night, she lashed out at Macron's planned pensions reform, which she described as an effort to make the French work forever

Campaigning in her northern France stronghold in a last-ditch effort to close the gap last night, she lashed out at Macron’s planned pensions reform, which she described as an effort to make the French work forever

Members of the public cast their votes at Lycee Voltaire polling station during the final round of the presidential elections on April 24, 2022 in Paris, France

Members of the public cast their votes at Lycee Voltaire polling station during the final round of the presidential elections on April 24, 2022 in Paris, France

Members of the public cast their votes at Lycee Voltaire polling station during the final round of the presidential elections on April 24, 2022 in Paris, France

Members of the public cast their votes at Lycee Voltaire polling station during the final round of the presidential elections on April 24, 2022 in Paris, France

Former French president Francois Hollande casts his ballot for the second round of the Presidential elections at a polling station in Tulle, on April 24, 2022

Former French president Francois Hollande casts his ballot for the second round of the Presidential elections at a polling station in Tulle, on April 24, 2022

French Prime minister Jean Castex leaves the polling booth on his way to cast his ballot for the second round of the Presidential elections at a polling station in Prades, on April 24, 2022

French Prime minister Jean Castex leaves the polling booth on his way to cast his ballot for the second round of the Presidential elections at a polling station in Prades, on April 24, 2022

The two candidates made their final pitches to the French electorate on Saturday as all campaigning and opinion polling must end by midnight on Friday. A first-round vote on April 10 led to Le Pen and Macron facing each other Sunday in a rematch of the 2017 presidential election runoff. 

During his final campaign speech, delivered deep in France’s southern heartland, Macron described the election as a ‘referendum for or against a secular, united, indivisible Republic.’ He presented himself as a guardian of democratic values and the rule of law, and hinted that Le Pen posed a threat to freedom of expression.

The centre-right incumbent, laid into the nationalist challenger, accusing Le Pen of trying to divide France over Islam. Le Pen has proposed to ban Muslim headscarves in public and wants to give French citizens priority over foreigners in receiving housing and job benefits.

‘The far right lives off fear and anger creating resentment. It says that excluding parts of society is the answer,’ Macron told France Inter radio. 

Macron went into the election with a stable lead in opinion polls, an advantage he consolidated in the frenetic final days of campaigning, including a no-holds-barred performance in the pre-election debate.

But analysts have cautioned that Macron, who rose to power in 2017 aged 39 as the country’s youngest-ever modern leader, can take nothing for granted given forecasts of low turnout that could sway the result in either direction.

He must above all hope that left-wing voters who backed other candidates in the first round on April 10 will back the former investment banker and his pro-business, reformist agenda to stop Le Pen and her populist programme.

Voting stations will close at 8:00 pm local time (1800 GMT), when preliminary results will be released that usually predict the final result with a high degree of accuracy.

Some 48.7 million people in France are eligible to vote in the election.

Marine Le Pen, French far-right National Rally (Rassemblement National) party candidate for the 2022 French presidential election, arrives to vote in the second round of the 2022 French presidential election at a polling station in Henin-Beaumont, France, April 24, 2022

Marine Le Pen, French far-right National Rally (Rassemblement National) party candidate for the 2022 French presidential election, arrives to vote in the second round of the 2022 French presidential election at a polling station in Henin-Beaumont, France, April 24, 2022

Voters stand in voting booths at a polling station in Lyon, central France, Sunday, April 24, 2022

Voters stand in voting booths at a polling station in Lyon, central France, Sunday, April 24, 2022

French people cast their ballot for the second round of French Presidential Election at a polling station in Montigny-le-Bretonneux near Paris, France on April 24, 2022

French people cast their ballot for the second round of French Presidential Election at a polling station in Montigny-le-Bretonneux near Paris, France on April 24, 2022

Voters go to the polls in France today, with front-runner Emmanuel Macron (pictured at a rally Friday) holding a narrow lead over the far-Right leader Marine Le Pen

Ms Le Pen's campaign has been dogged by accusations of racism and ties to the Kremlin (Pictured: Le Pen during a campaign rally on Thursday)

Voters go to the polls in France today, with front-runner Emmanuel Macron (pictured left at a rally Friday) holding a narrow lead over the far-Right leader Marine Le Pen. Ms Le Pen’s campaign has been dogged by accusations of racism and ties to the Kremlin (Pictured right: Le Pen during a campaign rally on Thursday) 

Macron himself repeatedly made clear that the complacency of stay-at-home voters precipitated the shocks of the 2016 elections that led to Brexit in Britain and Donald Trump’s election in the United States.

Analysts say abstention rates could reach 26 to 28 percent, though the 1969 record for a second-round abstention rate of 31.1 percent is not expected to be beaten.

Far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, who scored a close third-place finish in the first-round vote, has pointedly refused to urge his millions of followers to back Macron while insisting they should not vote for Le Pen.

Another factor is that elections are being held in the midst of the Easter school break in much of France.

According to Martial Foucault, director of the CEVIPOF political studies centre, a high abstention rate will narrow the gap between Macron and Le Pen, describing this as a ‘real risk’ for the president.

Early turnout indications will be closely watched from the overseas territories, where average incomes are lower than in mainland France and which generally backed Melenchon in the first round.

In New Caledonia, for example, turnout at midday was just 18.2 percent. In mainland France, the first turnout estimation will be published at 12:00 pm.

A woman votes in the second round of the French presidential election in Lyon, central France, Sunday, April 24, 2022

A woman votes in the second round of the French presidential election in Lyon, central France, Sunday, April 24, 2022

French nationals walk past posters of candidates Emmanual Macron (R) and Marine Le Pen as they arrive to vote in the second round of the French presidential elections, at the French consulate in the Lebanese capital Beirut, on April 24, 202

French nationals walk past posters of candidates Emmanual Macron (R) and Marine Le Pen as they arrive to vote in the second round of the French presidential elections, at the French consulate in the Lebanese capital Beirut, on April 24, 202

French people cast their ballot for the second round of French Presidential Election at a polling station in Montigny-le-Bretonneux near Paris, France on April 24, 2022

French people cast their ballot for the second round of French Presidential Election at a polling station in Montigny-le-Bretonneux near Paris, France on April 24, 2022

Members of the public cast their votes at Lycee Voltaire polling station during the final round of the presidential elections on April 24, 2022 in Paris, France

Members of the public cast their votes at Lycee Voltaire polling station during the final round of the presidential elections on April 24, 2022 in Paris, France

The stakes are huge for both France and Europe, with Macron pledging reform and tighter EU integration while Le Pen, who would be France’s first female president, insists the bloc should be modified in what opponents describe as ‘Frexit’ by another name.

Macron has also opposed Le Pen’s plan to make it illegal to wear the Muslim headscarf in public, though her team has walked back on the proposal ahead of the vote, saying it was no longer a ‘priority.’

They have also clashed on Russia, with Macron seeking to portray Le Pen as incapable of dealing with the invasion of Ukraine due to a loan her party took from a Russian-Czech bank.

Macron would be the first French president to win re-election in two decades since Jacques Chirac in 2002.

If elected, he is expected to address supporters on the Champ de Mars in central Paris at the foot of the Eiffel Tower.

Polls have shown Macron with a lead of around 10 percentage points, a much closer outcome than in 2017, when the same two candidates faced off and Macron carried the day with 66 percent of the vote.

Macron received a warm welcome in Figeac, where Melenchon came in second place in the first round of voting. but suddenly paused in his speech to address protesters who deployed a banner opposing the privatization of state services.

Macron told them he did the opposite during the coronavirus pandemic and exhorted them to think about their right to protest before they cast their ballot on Sunday. 

Members of the public cast their votes at Lycee Voltaire polling station during the final round of the presidential elections on April 24, 2022 in Paris, France

Members of the public cast their votes at Lycee Voltaire polling station during the final round of the presidential elections on April 24, 2022 in Paris, France

People and election posters are seen outside a polling station in Sevres, near Paris, France, Sunday, April 24, 2022

People and election posters are seen outside a polling station in Sevres, near Paris, France, Sunday, April 24, 2022 

‘You should congratulate yourselves for living in a democracy where you can challenge an acting president, a candidate,’ Macron said. ‘And I hope it can continue. Because on the 24th of April, with another candidate, it will be a different choice.’

Earlier, Le Pen was in Etaples, at a marketplace near Le Touquet – a pointed choice on the final day of campaigning given that it is the constituency in which Macron himself votes.

The National Rally leader displayed a combative spirit following a bitter televised debate with Macron this week that buoyed some of her poll numbers.

Speaking on C-News, Le Pen called on the French to read her manifesto and wake up to the failures of Macron’s five-year term. She responded to criticism that her policies did not hold up under scrutiny.

‘I call on the French to check for themselves and form an opinion by reading what I propose to do to respond to the rampage that was Emmanuel Macron,’ she said. 

To take account of the time difference with mainland France, polls opened earlier in overseas territories, home to almost three million French.

The first vote in the election was cast midday on Saturday, Paris time, by a 90-year-old man in the tiny island territory of Saint Pierre and Miquelon, off the northern coast of Canada.

Polls subsequently opened in France’s islands in the Caribbean and the South American territory of French Guiana, followed by territories in the Pacific and then the Indian Ocean.

Meanwhile, a priest was attacked with a knife in a church in Nice, southern France, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said on his Twitter feed on Sunday. He said the priest’s life was not in danger and added that police have arrested the attacker.

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