Buoyed centrist alliance, Macron seen beating Le Pen in French runoff

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French independent candidate Emmanuel Macron would easily beat far-right leader Marine Le Pen in the second round of the country’s presidential election in May, two opinion polls showed on Sunday.

The pollsters said Macron has been buoyed by the alliance announced this week with centrist politician Francois Bayrou, which has enabled him to move ahead of conservative candidate Francois Fillon.

A poll by Odoxa/Dentsu-Consulting showed 39-year-old Macron, a former economy minister running without the support of any traditional political party, would beat Le Pen in the runoff with 61 percent of the vote, versus 39 percent for her.

The election is held in two stages, with about a dozen candidates running in the first round and the two frontrunners from that vote facing each other in the runoff.

Another poll by Figaro/LCI showed Macron winning the runoff by 58 percent to 42 percent for Le Pen.

Le Pen, leader of the anti-immigrant and anti-European Union National Front, would lead in the first round of voting with 27 percent, both polls showed, followed by Macron with 25 percent and Fillon with 19 percent.

A National Front campaign rally in the Atlantic port city of Nantes was marred by two days of violence as left-wing groups seeking to block the event clashed with police. Authorities said 13 gendarmes were injured during skirmishes on Saturday evening.

At the rally, Le Pen accused ex-financier Macron of being backed by banks and media groups, and said the justice system was being used to influence the outcome of the election.

Her chief of staff was put under formal investigation on Wednesday over alleged misuse of EU funds. Another associate was also placed under formal investigation in a separate probe over campaign financing on Saturday.

Le Pen promised to tighten immigration, push for a stronger role of the state in business, and introduce a seven-year non-renewable presidential mandate to replace the current five-year mandate.

Fillon, once seen as a the main challenger to Le Pen and favorite to become France’s next president, has been hobbled by a scandal in which he allegedly paid his wife and other family members for fake parliamentary jobs.

The Odoxa poll put ruling Socialist party candidate Benoit Hamon in fourth place in the first round with 13 percent, and hard-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon in fifth with 12 percent.

Hamon and Melenchon, who are in talks about a potential alliance, met on Friday evening, a source close to the Socialist candidate told Reuters on Sunday.

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