French election: what you need to know

With neither candidate obtaining an absolute majority in the first round, a run-off will be held two weeks later.

"They (the people) chose to put me to the first place in the first round of this vote, and I appreciate the honor and great responsibility that was bestowed on me", Macron continued.

Claiming to be the candidate of the people, Le Pen said "it is time to liberate the French nation from arrogant elites who want to dictate how it must behave".

Presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron called on all "patriots" to rally behind him against the threat of what he called "nationalists", after qualifying on Sunday for the French election's runoff against far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

Pre-election polls suggest Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron, an independent centrist and former economy minister, were in the lead.

If Ms Le Pen wins, it will further shake up the West's liberal post-war order, already rattled by Britain's vote to leave the European Union and Donald Trump's election to the White House.

He said he wants to gather "the largest possible" support before the runoff.

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Macron is a comparatively untried 39-year old former Rothschild banker, who has been compared by his more enthusiastic supporters to a mixture of Charles de Gaulle, Joan of Arc and Napoleon Bonaparte.

Le Pen has proposed holding a referendum on France's membership of the European Union, limiting immigration, increasing control on the country's borders and expelling Islamic extremists. If she were successful, it would probably sink an institution that has helped bind Europe together for decades.

"In one year we have changed the face of French political life".

After many years of high unemployment and a steady drumbeat of political scandals, voters turned their backs on the establishment and instead backed a political newcomer in Macron and a far-right candidate in Le Pen.

At a French cultural centre in Montreal, both applause and boos rang out as a French TV station announced its projections just after the vote closed at 2 p.m.

Voting took place amid heightened security in the first election under France's state of emergency, which has been in place since gun-and-bomb attacks in Paris in 2015.

Socialist presidential candidate Benoit Hamon, who was far behind in Sunday's results, quickly conceded defeat.

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