Macron denies elitism as French presidential candidates bid for last votes

Michelle Clifford, Senior Correspondent, in Paris, and Russell Hope, News Reporter

The top three candidates in France's presidential election have embarked on a final push in Paris to pull in undecided voters and shore up their bases in a contest which has evolved into a too-tight-to-call contest between the far right, far left and centre. 

Current leader in the polls Emmanuel Macron drew tens of thousands to a rally in the capital where he told supporters if he wins it will lead to the start of a new France, a return to optimism and hope.

The young leader of the centrist En Marche party pushed his love of all things French in the final days of an election which has been for a large part about issues of national identity.

:: How the French elections work

He told supporters unless they come out it will be a choice between Thatcher and Trotsky - referring to the tight battle between far right candidate Marine Le Pen and far left hopeful Jean-Luc Melenchon.

Mr Macron , a 39-year-old former Rothschild banker, took the opportunity to reject accusations of elitism, telling BFM TV: "I've always paid all my tax in France and I've always had all my accounts in France.

"I've heard it all, that I have a hidden inheritance, that I've got offshore accounts. All sorts of things. Why? Because in this campaign there are two candidates with their own real legal problems."

Polls put Mr Macron and Mrs Le Pen neck-and-neck ahead of the first round of voting on Sunday, although conservative Francois Fillon and Mr Melenchon have been catching up.

Mr Melenchon also centred his efforts on the capital, meeting supporters aboard a barge in what was the latest in a series of quirky campaign events.

:: A look at all the candidates and their policies

He floated down a canal making a series of stops along the way as he tried to build on the momentum of recent days that, if the polls are correct, has brought him within touching distance of success in the first round of the election.

Polls suggest one in three voters have still not made up their minds so the front-runners know there is everything to play for. Only two will advance to the final round and Mrs Le Pen will use a rally to push her anti-immigration agenda.

She has been Mr Macron's main rival for much of the election campaign but a Le Pen-Melenchon run-off now appears a possibility.

Both propose a referendum on France's membership of the EU if their attempts to overhaul the bloc fail, which has raised market concerns in the wake of the Brexit referendum.

Mr Macron is an arch-Europhile and could make life difficult for Britain during its exit from the EU.

Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon has insisted that he, too, remains a contender.

"Things are evolving," he said on Europe-1 radio.

But the Socialists' campaign has suffered from internal divisions and the image of Socialist President Francois Hollande, who is so unpopular he did not try for a second term.

The French go to the polls on 23 April in what is the most unpredictable election in a generation.

The final round will be held on 7 May when a new French President will be chosen.

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