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Macron, Le Pen kick off runoff campaigns

PARIS (AP) – French President Emmanuel Macron declared on Monday that he wants to “convince” a broad range of French voters to back his centrist vision, kicking off a two-week battle against far-right challenger Marine Le Pen ahead of the country’s presidential runoff vote.

Le Pen, meanwhile, is ready for the fight, eager to highlight rising prices for energy and food that have hit poorer households especially hard recently as Macron has focussed his efforts on seeking a diplomatic solution to the war in Ukraine.

The two candidates came out on top in Sunday’s first-round presidential vote, setting up an April 24 replay of their duel in 2017. Macron trounced Le Pen five years ago in the presidential runoff but all opinion polls show the leader of the National Rally is much closer this time to a potential win.

The outcome of the French presidential election will have wide international influence as Europe struggles to contain the havoc wreaked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Macron has strongly backed European Union (EU) sanctions on Russia while Le Pen has worried about their impact on French living standards. Macron also is a firm supporter of NATO and of close collaboration among the EU’s 27 members.

French President and presidential candidate for re-election Emmanuel Macron talks to workers as he visits a building site. PHOTOS: AP
French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen with supporters after delivering a speech

Macron headed on Monday to an economically depressed area of northern France where a majority of voters had chosen Le Pen, close to her electoral stronghold of Henin-Beaumont.

“I’m here, and I’m determined to fight,” the 44-year-old president said during his visit to the town of Denain, adding that he has heard the concerns of people who struggle to find a job and earn more money.

“They need to be reassured,” he said.

For her part, Le Pen met with National Rally officials to plan her strategy for the runoff and visited a cereal producer in the Burgundy region to speak about rising prices and making “strong, urgent decisions to protect the purchasing power of the French”.

The topic has been at the core of her campaign this year, but Macron’s team argues that, due to the economic impact of the war in Ukraine, France does not have the financial means to meet Le Pen’s campaign promises.

Macron said he wants to court those who voted for the “extremes” or opted to stay at home. He met with residents in Denain, many of whom criticised his proposed pension changes, which include raising the minimum retirement age from 62 to 65.