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French Candidates Clash Over Extremism, Russia, Economy In Fiery Debate

A combo photo of French presidential candidates Marine Le Pen (right) and Emmanuel Macron

France's presidential candidates have clashed in a fiery televised debate, hurling insults and criticisms at each other over issues from remaining in the European Union to fighting terrorism and relations with Russia.

The two went into the debate on May 3 with opinion polls showing centrist Emmanuel Macron, 39, with a strong lead of 20 percentage points over far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen, 48, in what is widely seen as France's most important election in decades.

In angry exchanges, Le Pen played up Macron's background as a former investment banker, portraying him as favoring "uberization" of the economy and "globalization gone wild."

Macron savaged her signature policy of abandoning the euro, calling it a "dangerous" plan that would unleash a currency war. He accused her of having no real solutions for economic problems such as chronic unemployment.

"Your strategy is to tell lots of lies, you don't propose anything," he said.

The exchanges at times were barbed and personal, with Macron calling Le Pen a "parasite" and "high priestess of fear," and Le Pen labeling him a "smirking banker."

Le Pen accused Macron of being complacent about Islamic extremism, and said he would allow the European Union to run the country.

"Whatever happens, France will be led by a woman, either me or Madame Merkel," she quipped, referring to the German chancellor.

Macron said Le Pen's policies of exclusion of immigrants and Muslims would play into the terrorists' hands, turn Frenchmen against each other, and lead to "civil war."

Though they differed significantly on relations with Russia, they didn't generate as many sparks on the subject.

Macron said he would try to work with Russian President Vladimir Putin to resolve regional issues such as the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine, but beyond that he did not believe France and Russia share the same "values and priorities."

Le Pen, who has campaigned on rapprochement with Russia, asserted that she is the politician best-placed to hold talks with Russia, the United States under President Donald Trump, or Britain as it prepares to depart the European Union.

"We have no reason to be in a Cold War with Russia," she said.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, and AFP
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