French Presidential Candidates Trade Scathing Critiques in Debate

French presidential candidates Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron faced off in a scathing two hours of televised debate Wednesday, just days before they face each other in a runoff election.

Le Pen portrayed her opponent as a heartless capitalist who is weak on terrorism, while Macron called his opponent a liar and a dangerous extremist.

Le Pen in her opening statement called the former economy minister Macron “the candidate of savage globalization.” Macron called Le Pen, who once was forced to kick her extreme-right father out of their National Front political party, the heir to France’s far-right faction.

The country’s high unemployment rate was on the agenda. Macron called for simplified government regulations and small and medium-sized businesses, while Le Pen promised to tax the products of companies that outsource jobs.

Regarding terrorism, which has taken at least 240 French lives in the past two years, Le Pen called for closing mosques suspected of fostering extremism, expanding prisons, and securing France’s borders. Macron called for better online surveillance, more police officers, and better intelligence sharing.

The debate between the far-right Le Pen and her centrist rival Macron could be the climax of the heated campaign, as the two candidates attempt to shore up support from France’s estimated 18 percent of undecided voters.

An opinion polling average shows Macron with a 60 percent to 40 percent lead over Le Pen, though that lead has shrunk by about three percentage points since the first round of voting on April 23.

The debate Wednesday night was broadcast to about 20 million viewers on France’s two largest television stations. It was billed as a showdown between the two candidates in their first face-to-face appearance.

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