Macron and Le Pen make final push for votes as French president's lead widens in polls

Campaigning by candidates comes to an end at midnight before Sunday's crucial vote

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Emmanuel Macron appears to be making headway over his French presidential rival Marine Le Pen, polls have indicated as candidates battle for votes on the final day of campaigning.

The centrist incumbent, 44, is inching closer to a second term in office as his far-right nationalist opponent’s bid to replace him falters.

The two candidates must make their final pitches to the electorate before campaigning is legally required to end at midnight.

Mr Macron’s final hours on the campaign trail will include a visit to the southern town of Figeac where he will make a speech.

Ms Le Pen will make an appearance at a marketplace near the northern seaside town of Le Touquet.

The 53 year old regards pro-EU Mr Macron as a technocrat to whom France is merely a part of the European Union.

She has pledged to introduce a ban on the wearing of the hijab in public if she wins the election on Sunday.

Determined to remain at the helm of Europe’s second-largest economy, the president has repeatedly accused her of trying to divide France over Islam, and said the far right “lives off fear and anger, creating resentment”.

The centre-left leaders of Germany, Spain and Portugal have urged French voters to choose Mr Macron over his rival.

French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen answers journalists' questions at the Hopale foundation as part of a campaign trip in Berck-sur-Mer on Friday. AFP

In a column published on Thursday, the trio raised a warning about “populists and the extreme right” who hold Russian President Vladimir Putin “as an ideological and political model, replicating his chauvinist ideas”.

“They have echoed his attacks on minorities and diversity and his goal of nationalist uniformity,” wrote German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa.

Alexey Navalny, the imprisoned Russian opposition leader, has also voiced his support for Mr Macron’s bid for a second term. Mr Navalny urged French voters to back the centrist and alleged that Ms Le Pen was too closely linked to Russian authorities.

Ms Le Pen has in the past been scrutinised over a €9 million ($9.7m) loan that her party National Rally received in 2014 from the First Czech-Russian Bank. She also came under fire for her 2017 visit to Moscow to meet Mr Putin before the French presidential run-off that year.

Latest polls show Mr Macron appeared to be pulling away from his rival.

A survey by Ipsos said 57.5 per cent of those questioned intended to vote for the incumbent, against 42.5 per cent for Ms Le Pen. Even allowing for a 3.3-point margin of error, a result along those lines would give Mr Macron a secure victory.

Emmanuel Macron's French presidential campaign appears to pack a punch as he campaigns near Paris. AP Photo

If she were president, Ms Le Pen said she would think twice about supplying Ukraine with weapons and would oppose energy sanctions against Moscow — for the sake of the Russian people.

She said she would pull France out of Nato’s military command, weakening the Western military alliance’s united front amid the Russian war on Ukraine.

Mr Macron's government says it has sent more than €100m worth of weapons to Ukraine since Russia invaded on February 24, and France has been central to the West’s ever-toughening sanctions against those linked to Mr Putin and the Kremlin.

Updated: April 22, 2022, 1:46 PM