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French president Emmanuel Macron tonight sensationally accused election rival Marine Le Pen of being ‘in the grip of Russia’ and using the country as ‘her banker’.
The 44-year-old head of state said the far-right Le Pen, 53, was unfit to replace him because she was still paying money back to Moscow during the Ukraine War.
‘War is raging on the continent,’ said Macron during a live TV face-off between the two candidates on Wednesday night.
‘Times are very dangerous indeed. Russia is strengthening its offensive, and this will lead to more human disasters.’
The centrist president then rounded on Le Pen: ‘You are in fact in Russia’s grip. You took out a loan from the First Czech-Russian Bank in 2014, working with people who were directly involved in the war in Syria.’
Referring to his 2017 election campaign, when Macron beat Le Pen to win his first term of office, he said: ‘You are not just talking about Russia, but your banker. It’s hardly surprising that Russia took part in the campaign to destabilise me in 2017.’
Le Pen rebuffed claims that her National Rally party was in cahoots with Russia, arguing she ‘had no other choice’ but to take out the £8million loan because ‘French banks would not lend to us.’
The National Rally leader rejected the accusations, saying: ‘I am a completely free and independent woman.’
Centrist candidate and French President Emmanuel Macron, left, and far-right contender Marine Le Pen pose before a televised debate in La Plaine-Saint-Denis, outside Paris, Wednesday, April 20, 2022
In the climax of France’s presidential campaign, centrist President Emmanuel Macron and far-right contender Marine Le Pen are tonight locked in a one-on-one television debate that could prove decisive before Sunday’s runoff vote
Denying any wrongdoing, Le Pen said: ‘I offer my solidarity and absolute compassion to the Ukrainian people in front of millions of viewers.’
But she added: ‘I agree with sanctions against Oligarchs, but I disagree with the ban on imports of oil from Russia.
‘I don’t think it will hurt Russia, but it will hurt the French people. The consequences will be cataclysmic, not just against business but against private individuals. Russia can just sell its oil to other countries.’
Le Pen also said she feared that sending French weapons to Ukraine could suck her country into the war.
‘This could be a huge risk for the West and for France,’ said Le Pen.
The TV debate is a traditional part of French election campaigns, with the two leading candidates taking part in a contest moderated by journalists.
In the first round on April 10, Macron came first out of the 12 candidates, beating second-placed Le Pen by more than 4 percentage points.
Polls indicate that Macron, a fiercely pro-EU centrist, has a strong lead of up to 10 per cent ahead of Sunday’s decisive vote.
But the gap is much narrower than in 2017, when Macron beat Le Pen with a landslide 66 per cent of the second round vote.
The TV debate is a traditional part of French election campaigns, with the two leading candidates taking part in a contest moderated by journalists. In the first round on April 10, Macron (pictured) came first out of the 12 candidates, beating second-placed Le Pen by more than 4 percentage points
Polls indicate the sitting President is ahead in the race, but the gap is much narrower than in 2017, when Macron beat Le Pen (pictured) with a landslide 66 per cent of the second round vote
Le Pen’s hard-right agenda includes a pledge to cut immigration to France by up to 75 per cent, and to prioritise social security benefits including housing for French nationals.
She has also said she will cut most taxes for the under-30s, and slash VAT on fuel to just 5 per cent.
The TV debate was a disaster for Le Pen five years ago, when her poor knowledge of the economy was exposed by the then more astute Macron.
The French president has said he will press on with his pro-EU agenda, so as to make France stronger in the world.
The former merchant banker resents being called ‘President of the French’ by enemies, insisting that he wants to spread wealth throughout society.
‘I want to win over women and men with diverse political points of view,’ he declared.
With unemployment at a 13-year low, Macron said he was proud of job creation during his term and added: ‘the best way to gain purchasing power is to fight unemployment.’
The two candidates kept interrupting each other at the start of the debate, with Le Pen saying that ‘in real life’ her proposals would improve voters’ situation much more than her opponent, while Macron said some of her proposals were not realistic.
‘Mrs Le Pen, what you said is inaccurate,’ Macron told his opponent about her proposals to slash VAT to improve purchasing power. ‘And you responded to none of my remarks because you have no response,’ he said.
Le Pen said Macron’s cost of living proposals would be inefficient.
French journalists and TV hosts Lea Salame (L) and Gilles Bouleau pose pose prior to moderating a live televised debate between French President and La Republique en Marche (LREM) party candidate for re-election Emmanuel Macron and French far-right party Rassemblement National (RN) presidential candidate Marine Le Pen on French TV channels TF1 and France 2 in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, ahead of the second round of France’s presidential election
Macron created En Marche! (On the Move!) his own political movement in 2016, and is independent of any established party.
Le Pen meanwhile changed the name of her family party, the National Front, to National Rally in 2018, in an attempt to try and soften its extremist image.
The party was founded in 1972 by her father, Jean-Marine Le Pen, who is widely reported to be a Holocaust denier.
Mr Le Pen, 93, was officially expelled from his daughter’s party but remains very popular among the rank and file.
In the audience supporting Macron tonight was his wife, Brigitte Macron, 69.
Ms Le Pen, a mother of three, is currently single.