France voted Sunday under heavy security in the first round of the most unpredictable presidential election in decades, with the outcome seen as vital for the future of the beleaguered European Union.
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron are the favourites to progress to a run-off on May 7 but the result is too close to call in a deeply divided country.
Le Pen, the 48-year-old leader of the National Front (FN), hopes to capitalise on security fears that were catapulted to the fore of the campaign after the fatal shooting of a policeman on Paris´s Champs Elysees avenue claimed by the Islamic State group.
Aiming to ride a wave of populism that led Donald Trump to the White House and Britain to vote for Brexit, Le Pen wants France to abandon the euro and intends to call a referendum on withdrawing from the EU as well.
Her ambitions have led observers to predict that a Le Pen victory could be a fatal blow for the EU, already weakened by Britain´s vote to leave.
Macron, 39, is seeking to become France´s youngest ever president and has campaigned on a strongly pro-EU and pro-business platform.—AFP