French voters propel unlikely lad Emmanuel Macron to presidency

French voters propel unlikely lad Emmanuel Macron to presidency

Independent centrist Emmanuel Macron has celebrated a resounding victory at the polls as French voters ripped up the country's political map to make him the nation's youngest president.

The unabashedly pro-European former investment banker who had never run for office before dashed the populist dream of far-right rival Marine Le Pen then joined thousands of jubilant, flag-waving supporters outside the Louvre Museum in Paris.

The European anthem Ode To Joy played as he strode out to address the swelling crowd.

"France has won," he said. "Everyone said it was impossible. But they do not know France."

Ms Le Pen quickly called Mr Macron, 39, to concede after voters rejected her "French-first" nationalism by a large margin.

Ms Le Pen's performance punctured her hopes that the populist wave which swept Donald Trump into the White House and led Britain to vote to leave the EU would also carry her to the Elysee Palace.

Mr Macron told the Louvre crowd that the Le Pen vote was one of "anger, disarray", adding: "I will do everything in the five years to come so there is no more reason to vote for the extremes."

Earlier, in a solemn televised victory speech, Mr Macron vowed to heal the social divisions exposed by France's acrimonious election campaign.

"I know the divisions in our nation that led some to extreme votes. I respect them," he declared.

"I know the anger, the anxiety, the doubts that a large number of you also expressed. It is my responsibility to hear them."

French voters propel unlikely lad Emmanuel Macron to presidency

With about 90% of votes counted, Mr Macron had 64% support, Ms Le Pen 36% - about double what Jean-Marie Le Pen, her father and co-founder of their National Front party, achieved at the same stage in the 2002 presidential election.

Mr Macron's victory strengthens France's place as a central pillar of the European Union and marked the third time in six months, following elections in Austria and the Netherlands, that European voters shot down far-right populists who wanted to restore borders across Europe.

The election of a French president who champions European unity could also strengthen the EU's hand in its complex divorce proceedings with Britain.

Parisians lined the streets outside Mr Macron's campaign headquarters to see his motorcade whisk him away to the Louvre party. His wife Brigitte joined him on stage after his address.

Mr Macron said he understood that some voters backed him reluctantly, simply to keep out Ms Le Pen and her party, which has a long history of anti-Semitism and racism.

"I know that this is not a blank cheque," he said. "I know about our disagreements. I will respect them."

French voters propel unlikely lad Emmanuel Macron to presidency

After the most closely-watched and unpredictable French presidential campaign in recent memory, many voters rejected the run-off choices altogether, casting blank or spoiled ballots in record numbers on Sunday.

Police sprayed tear gas and detained dozens of protesters holding running demonstrations through eastern Paris after the election results came out.

Congratulatory messages poured in from abroad.

US president Donald Trump tweeted congratulations on what he called Mr Macron's "big win" and said he looked forward to working with the new French leader.

Mr Macron has said he wants continued intelligence-sharing with the United States and co-operation at the United Nations and hopes to persuade Mr Trump not to pull the US out of a global accord fighting climate change.

Germany's foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel laced his welcome for Mr Macron with a warning to the French, saying: "If he fails, in five years Mrs Le Pen will be president and the European project will go to the dogs."

Mr Macron becomes not only France's youngest-ever president but also one of its most unlikely.

Until now, modern France had been governed either by the Socialists or the conservatives, but both of their candidates were eliminated before the run-off.

"France has sent an incredible message to itself, to Europe and the world," said Macron ally Francois Bayrou, tipped among his possible choices for prime minister.

Unknown to voters before his turbulent 2014-16 tenure as France's pro-business economy minister, Mr Macron took a giant gamble by quitting Socialist president Francois Hollande's government to run as an independent.

His start-up political movement, optimistically named En Marche! (In Motion), caught fire in just one year, harnessing voters' hunger for new faces and new ideas.

"I'm so happy, it feels so good! I lived the election of Donald Trump in New York, and now finally, after Brexit, after Trump, populism has been beaten in France," Macron supporter Pierre-Yves Colinet said at the Louvre party.

"Today, I'm proud to be French."

Ms Le Pen, 48, immediately turned her focus to France's upcoming legislative election in June, where Mr Macron will need a working majority to govern effectively.

She said her "historic and massive" score turned her party into "the leading opposition force against the new president's plans".

"I call on all patriots to join us," she said. "France will need you more than ever in the months ahead."

AP

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