Presidential rivals clash over Brexit in first TV debate

Presidential rivals clash over Brexit in first TV debate

"Without peace in school it is impossible to learn", Le Pen said.

Le Pen said the burkini was a sign of the "rise of radical Islam in our country" and accused Macron of supporting it.

Le Pen and Macron shared the stage in the TF1 debate with the candidates now in third and fourth place, Francois Fillon of the right and Benoit Hamon of the left, along with the fifth-place Communist-backed Jean-Luc Melenchon.

The first-round vote is set for April 23; the top two candidates go to a runoff May 7.

Conservative Francois Fillon was notably restrained.

Some of the sharpest exchanges were about the place of religion in France. Television debates were key to Fillon's victory in the centre-right primaries in November and to Benoit Hamon in the Socialist primaries in January. The Socialist Party's Benoit Hammon placed last.

The televised evening debate involved the five candidates who are expected to be the largest vote-getters in the first round of the two-round vote.

Polls show Macron and Le Pen establishing a clear lead in terms of voting intentions in the first round, while Fillon, the one-time front-runner who has been damaged by a financial scandal, has slipped back.

Roth told the radio broadcaster that French President Francois Hollande had begun needed reforms, but more work was needed to reverse the gains made by Le Pen.

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But with so many voters undecided and polls showing the abstention rate could be higher than ever in France, the level of uncertainty remains high.

But the scandal, which has dominated the campaign for weeks, occupied relatively little time in the debate.

In the audience was Penelope Fillon, 61, ...

Fillon had been hoping for a boost Monday after taking a battering over revelations that his wife was paid hundreds of thousands of euros for a suspected fake job as a parliamentary assistant and allegations that he accepted luxury suits from a rich benefactor. "When I have something to say, I say it clearly".

"The traditional parties, those who have for decades failed to solve yesterday's problems, won't be able to do it tomorrow either", said Macron, a 39-year-old former economy minister and investment banker who has never run for elected office.

Le Pen repeatedly stressed her opposition to the European Union, saying she did not want to see France become a "vague region" of the bloc.

Setting out her vision of a France which defends its interests "without being lectured by a supranational body", Le Pen, who has accused Germany of dictating to the rest of Europe, said: "I have no desire to be Mrs Merkel's deputy".

Five of the main runners in France's presidential election race entered the same ring for an eagerly awaited and historic live TV debate on Monday night. "I know polling is valid, but under that rule, I could not have participated in the primaries [debate]".

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