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"This result is historic", Le Pen, 48, told supporters in her northern stronghold of Henin-Beaumont, declaring it "time to liberate the French people".

Partial official results from France's first-round presidential election show far-right leader Marine Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron leading.

The two of them will now face off in a runoff election on May 7, and polls show Macron with a solid chance of winning.

Investors breathed a sigh of relief after centrist reformer Emmanuel Macron emerged as the front runner to become the next French president.

Such a vote is "indispensable" in the second round, Kalifat wrote.

Sylvain Hechon is 25 years old - an activist in the town of Maubeuge, a National Front stronghold. He was followed closely by far-right populist Marine Le Pen, who pulled in 21.7 percent. (He suggested a Jewish singer critical of the party be "put in the oven.") She has kicked out several party members for anti-Semitic rhetoric.

She said: "This is a historic result and now I have the enormous responsibility to defend the French nation its unity, its security, its culture, its prosperity and its independence".

Le Pen also blames free trade pacts for killing French jobs and wants to renegotiate them, which would cause a financial tangle for the rest of the European Union and France's trade partners.

Thanking Fillon and Hamon for their early endorsements made during their concession speeches, he said: "Tonight I start to gather together the French people".

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"Macron's good results, and those of Fillon, are an encouraging signal for the future of Europe", said Juergen Hardt, foreign policy spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives in parliament.

She called her runoff opponent the "heir" to current French President Francois Hollande.

Throughout the campaign, Macron insisted France was "contrarian" - ready to elect a pro-globalisation liberal at a time when rightwing nationalists are making gains around the world. She is opposed to immigration, takes a zero-tolerance stand on law-and-order issues and wants to curb France's openness to the rest of Europe.

Speaking with the AFP news agency, Macron said, "We're turning a page in French political history". Consensus is that this is sufficient to sideline his far right opponent Le Pen, wiping out the prospect of a Frexit and the disintegration of the EU.

Despite Macron's plans to "relaunch the building of Europe", the combined scores of staunch eurosceptics Le Pen, far-left Jean-Luc Melenchon and nationalist Nicolas Dupont-Aignan add up to almost 50 percent.

Mainstream parties conceding defeat: Hamon of the Socialists and Fillon of the center-right Les Republicans both conceded defeat quite quickly.

"There is no other choice but to vote against the far right, I will vote for Emmanuel Macron", Fillon told supporters.

It sets up a battle between Mr Macron's optimistic vision of a tolerant France with open borders against Ms Le Pen's darker, inward-looking platform calling for closed borders, tougher security, less immigration and dropping the shared euro currency to return to the franc. "We are likely to see a notable tightening of European sovereign spreads and this would also be positive for the euro and stocks", he said, although he added that the exit polls must be viewed with a degree of caution. Melenchon says that's a possibility if he can't renegotiate France's role in a bloc blamed for myriad economic and security woes. "We could find ourselves in a situation similar to what happened under the Fourth Republic, with an unstable majority", said political analysts Philippe Cossalter of Sarre University.


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