French centrist Emmanuel Macron and his far-right presidential rival Marine Le Pen clashed over terrorism, the economy and Europe Wednesday May 03,2017 in a bad-tempered TV debate that laid bare their profoundly different visions for the country.
The duel ahead of Sunday's election was billed as a confrontation between Macron's call for openness and pro-market reforms and Le Pen's France-first nationalism.
Macron replied that Le Pen, the 48-year-old scion of the National Front (FN) party, was "the heir of a system which has prospered from the fury of the French people for decades", adding: "You play with fear."
The 39-year-old frequently branded Le Pen a liar and even a "parasite of the system", who he said lived off the frustrations of France's blocked political system.
On Europe, Le Pen accused Macron of being "submissive" towards German Chancellor Angela Merkel, saying: "France will be led by a woman, either me or Mrs Merkel."
She also accused Macron of an "indulgent attitude" towards Islamic fundamentalism and constantly sought to remind viewers of his role as a minister in unpopular President Francois Hollande's Socialist government.
But Macron was in combative form throughout, repeatedly portraying Le Pen's proposals as simplistic, defeatist or dangerous and targeting her proposals to withdraw France from the euro in particular.
The euro policy "was the big nonsense of Marine Le Pen's programme," he said midway through the 140-minute debate.
Le Pen called the euro, shared by 19 countries in the European Union and blamed by some in France for a rise in prices, as "the currency of bankers, it's not the people's currency."
Trailing in the polls, the debate was probably her last chance to change the dynamics of the race ahead of the final weekend of a long and unpredictable campaign.
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.
This broadly mirrors forecasts for Sunday's vote.
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.