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PARIS: France’s incumbent leader Emmanuel Macron and far-right challenger Marine Le Pen are heading for an April 24 presidential election runoff, projections showed after first round voting on Sunday.

Macron garnered 28.1-29.5% of votes in the first round while Le Pen won 23.3-24.4%, according to separate estimates by pollsters Ifop, OpinionWay, Elabe and Ipsos. Those estimates, published as voting ended, are usually very reliable in France.

If confirmed, that outcome would set up a duel between an economic liberal with a globalist outlook in Macron and a deeply eurosceptic economic nationalist who, until the Ukraine war, was an open admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Who next holds the Elysee Palace will depend on how those who backed Macron and Le Pen’s rivals cast their ballots.

Macron faces a tough fight as France votes on Sunday

Conservative candidate Valerie Pecresse, the Socialists’ Anne Hidalgo, the Greens’ Yannick Jadot and the Communists’ Fabien Roussel said they would back Macron to block the far-right. “So that France does not fall into hatred of all against all, I solemnly call on you to vote on April 24 against the far-right of Marine Le Pen,” said Hidalgo.

Pecresse warned of “disastrous consequences” if Macron did not win the runoff. But another far-right candidate Eric Zemmour will call on supporters to back Le Pen, Marion Marechal - who is an ally of Zemmour and Le Pen’s niece - told BFM TV.

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