Le Pen and Macron in heated televised presidential debate

French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron used a televised debate to warn that his far-right rival Marine Le Pen would lead France to civil war and give Islamic extremists what they want by infringing on the rights of Muslims.

Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron before the final debate. Picture: AP

Last night’s debate saw Ms Le Pen accuse Mr Macron of being complacent on extremism. Mr Macron countered: “What the terrorists expect, it’s civil war, it’s division, it’s heinous speech.”

Ms Le Pen has pledged to shut down a powerful fundamentalist federation linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and known as the Union of Islamic Organisations in France.

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

France’s presidential candidates last night debated in their only televised one-to-one before the run-off election.

The former leader of the National Front party, Marine Le Pen, and independent centrist Emmanuel Macron sat at a table facing each other, with photos of the Elysee Palace projected behind them.

They were being questioned in the debate by two journalists from TF1 and France 2, the country’s major television channels.

Both candidates came out swinging in their opening remarks.

Mr Macron said the populist Ms Le Pen, daughter of former extreme-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, “prospers on the anger of the French”.

She tore into Mr Macron as an ally of the world of finance and declared herself “the candidate of the people, of the France that we love”.

Ms Len Pen said her centrist rival is the candidate of buying, not buying power.

She told the former economy minister and investment banker: “I’m the candidate of buying power. You’re the candidate of buying, buying up France.”

The nationalist Ms Le Pen’s campaign is being watched as a barometer of the appeal of populist politicians in Europe.

The debate was seen as a last best chance to put their opposite visions and plans for France to the cohort of undecided electors who could sway Sunday’s vote.

They sat opposite each other at a round table. He rested his chin on his hands while she spoke.

The debate offered risk and reward for both. A major trip-up or meltdown beamed direct into the homes of millions of electors could dent their presidential ambitions in the closing stages of the intense campaign that has already steered France into uncharted territory.

The first round of voting on 23 April eliminated mainstream parties from the left and right and propelled Mr Macron, a centrist with no major party backing, and the far-right’s Ms Le Pen into the winner-takes-all run-off.

For both candidates, the meticulously calibrated TV face-off, organised in close collaboration with their campaign teams and held in a studio in northern Paris, was a first.

Ms Le Pen finished third in the last presidential election in 2012, locking her out of the traditional TV debate reserved for the top two vote-getters between rounds one and two.

Mr Macron, a former investment banker and economy minister for outgoing Socialist president Francois Hollande, is running his first-ever campaign for elected office.