The Latest: French contenders clash over jobless rate

PARIS (AP) — The Latest on France’s presidential election (all times local):

9:28 p.m.

Far-right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen has clashed in a heated debate with her centrist rival Emmanuel Macron over how to jump-start the floundering French economy and create jobs.

The two presidential candidates came out fighting at the start of Wednesday’s debate, the only face-to-face confrontation ahead of Sunday’s runoff election.

The anti-European Union Le Pen told Macron, a former economy minister and one-time investment banker, that for him, “the law of the strongest must apply.”

She said “radical” changes are needed to reduce the country’s 10 percent unemployment rate.

Differences included how to negotiate the 35-hour work week currently in place. Len Pen advocates talks by sector instead of by company.

She claimed Macron’s choices amount to “fratricide” because they pit one group, class or company against another.


9:12 p.m.

Centrist French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron has derisively referred to far-rival Marine Le Pen as “an heir,” reminding voters that the name Le Pen has been an inglorious part of French politics for 40 years.

Macron told Le Pen at the start of their televised debate Wednesday: “You are the heir of a name, of a political party.”

It was a reference to her father, National Front party co-founded Jean-Marie Le Pen. He was expelled from the party in 2015 after he reiterated anti-Semitic comments.

Jean-Marie Le Pen ran five times for the presidency; Marine Le Pen is making her second attempt.

Macron is a newcomer in politics and unknown to French people until he became Socialist President Francois Hollande’s economy minister. He launched a political movement last year to support his presidential bid.


9:00 p.m.

France’s presidential candidates have started debating on national television in their only televised one-to-one before the runoff election.

The far-right leader of the National Front party, Marine Le Pen, and independent centrist Emmanuel Macron sat a table facing each other, with photos of the Elysee palace projected behind them.

They being are questioned in the Wednesday debate by two journalists from TF1 and France 2, the country’s major television channels.


8:30 p.m.

Far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen and untested centrist Emmanuel Macron have arrived at a television studio outside Paris ahead of a high-stakes debate and shown there is unlikely to be any common ground in their verbal showdown.

Their one-on-one debate on Wednesday is scheduled to be the only direct confrontation between the candidates ahead of Sunday’s runoff election for the presidency.

Between the anti-EU Le Pen and pro-European Macron, the two offer polar-opposite platforms.

Le Pen said upon her arrival at the studio that she hopes the debate will help the millions of undecided French make up their minds between “continuity or change that I represent.”

Macron says he wants to show that Le Pen’s platform “cannot respond to the challenges of the country.”


11:55 a.m.

Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen are preparing for their one-on-one televised French presidential election debate, with much at stake for both contenders.

They are expected to square off for more than two hours Wednesday in their final showdown before Sunday’s runoff vote.

The latest opinion polls show the pro-EU Macron holding a strong lead over his far-right rival Le Pen.

Macron, who has been criticized for his early celebrations after he finished nearly three points ahead of Le Pen in the first-round vote April 23, needs to convince leftist voters that his pro-business and liberal stance should not deter them from supporting him. Le Pen is expected to hammer home her favorite themes of security and identity.