French presidential candidates, far-right Marine Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron, traded accusations as they disagreed over their vision of France’s future.
The French rivals clashed over terrorism, the economy and Europe in an ill-tempered television debate.
While Macron claimed his opponent was “unworthy” of holding the French presidency, Le Pen accused him of “groveling” in front of big banks, the EU and sectarianism.
Macron stressed that terrorism would be his top priority if he is elected and expressed doubts over Le Pen’s solutions.
“I will lead a fight against terrorism at every level. But what they are wanting, the trap they are holding out for us, is the one that you offer – civil war,” he stated.
Le Pen accused Macron of launching “project fear” over her plans. “The euro is the currency of bankers, not that of the people,” she said.
She also accused Macron of being “submissive” towards German Chancellor Angela Merkel, saying: “France will be led by a woman, either me or Mrs Merkel.”
Frederic Dabi, an analyst with pollsters Ifop, said the debate was “extraordinarily violent, bitter (and) harsh”.
“Le Pen’s strategy was to push Macron into making a mistake, but she didn’t really succeed,” he told Reuters.
The two-and-a-half hour debate was a last major chance to change the dynamics of the race and persuade voters of the merits of Le Pen’s programme, which include cracking down on illegal immigration, ditching the euro and holding a referendum on EU membership.
A poll by the Elabe group for the BFM channel immediately afterwards showed that 63 percent of people interviewed found Macron the most convincing versus 34 percent for Le Pen.
Macron would win around 59 percent to 41 percent if the vote were held now, surveys suggest, but previous debates during the rollercoaster French campaign have shifted public opinion.