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France election: Leading candidates spar in TV debate

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The five leading candidates in the French election are appearing in the first TV debate of its kind.

Recent polls show Marine Le Pen of the far-right Front National getting most votes in the first round of voting.

But they also show centrist Emmanuel Macron or scandal-hit centre-right candidate Francois Fillon defeating her in a second round run off.

Voters go to the polls on 23 April. A second round will be held on 7 May if necessary.

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Previous elections have seen televised head-to-head debates between the two remaining candidates ahead of a second round of voting.

But this is the first time the leading candidates have agreed to debate with each other before the first round.

French media reports suggest that both the front-runners – Ms Le Pen and Mr Macron – hope to gain credibility through their appearance.

Ms Le Pen is hoping to boost her appeal in order to have a chance of winning in an eventual second round, while Mr Macron – who has never fought an election before – wants to show he can do the job, Le Parisien newspaper reported.

On the left, Mr Hamon is hoping to differentiate himself from Mr Melenchon, who is hoping to use the debate to attract undecided voters, he newspaper said.

Mr Fillon is looking to shake off the controversy surrounding payments to his wife for work she is alleged not to have carried out, and which are the subject of an investigation.

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