PARIS (Reuters) - France’s two presidential candidates traded barbs on Tuesday with centrist Emmanuel Macron accusing far-right rival Marine Le Pen of promoting hatred, while she labelled him as the “candidate of the oligarchy.”
Macron and Le Pen, leader of the National Front (FN), go head-to-head on May 7 after taking the top two places in Sunday’s first round.
Opinion polls indicate that the business-friendly Macron, who has never held elected office, will take at least 60 percent of the vote against Le Pen after two defeated rivals pledged to back him to thwart her eurosceptic, anti-immigrant platform.
However, since Sunday Le Pen has been on the offensive. She has portrayed the 39-year-old former investment banker as weak in the face of Islamist militancy, the heir to unpopular outgoing President Francois Hollande and part of the country’s privileged elite.
Macron has also come under fire from potential allies and Le Pen for acting as if victory next month was already in the bag after visiting a restaurant on the Left Bank on Sunday night after his first round triumph, handing ammunition to his opponents who described it as shallow, arrogant behaviour.
Speaking after Hollande warned him earlier in the day against taking victory for granted, Macron sought to regain some initiative.
“Some have woken up with a hangover because Le Pen is there. I haven’t,” Macron told reporters after his first campaign trip since Sunday. “Nothing is won ... I have never considered one minute that it was won. My battle is to defeat Marine Le Pen.”
On France 2 television, Macron said the 48-year-old Le Pen would bring disaster to the economy and divide it with “hatred”.
“When I hear Madame Le Pen’s slogans, her tones and her gestures, I see a lot more brutality on her side than mine. The brutal project, the project of hate and rejection is not on my side,” he added.
A Harris poll published late on Tuesday showed that more than 60 percent of French people believed that Le Pen had begun her campaign better than Macron with more than 40 percent considering Macron’s restaurant celebration a mistake.
Seeking to capitalise on her momentum, Le Pen has attempted to distance herself from her own party, saying she was not the candidate of the National Front, only supported by it, and was in fact the “candidate of the people” fighting the “candidate of the oligarchy.”
“My opponent has a vision that is disembodied. He only has eyes for the big cities. He is addressing them,” she said, adding that unlike Macron she had campaigned in rural France.
“The election is not done. The oligarchy has already installed Emmanuel Macron in the president’s seat. The people will reserve a major surprise for the oligarchy,” she said.
Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Gareth Jones and Sandra Maler