Tears of joy and frustration after French election count

Lina TRABELSI
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Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte Trogneux salute the crowd after projections indicated the 39-year-old centrist led first round voting in France's presidential elections

Emmanuel Macron's youthful supporters wept tears of joy and shouted themselves hoarse on Sunday as projections from France's presidential election suggested their champion was well on track for power.

Similar jubilation played out at the headquarters of the far-right National Front (FN), whose leader Marine Le Pen brought the party to the presidential runoff for just the second time in its history.

For supporters of the conservative Republicans and far-left France Insoumise (France Unbowed), there was bitterness at a dream left unfulfilled.

But for Socialists, the evening was a nightmare, bringing the curtain down on the party's grip on the paramount seat of power.

A wave of noise and emotion swept though a giant conference centre on the southwest outskirts of Paris hosted by Macron's fledgling party, "En Marche" ("On the Move"), after projections showed the 39-year-old pro-Europe former minister led the pack for France's top job.

- Tricolores galore -

Thousands of supporters waving French flags shouted in ecstasy as Macron and his spouse, Brigitte Trogneux -- his former teacher who is 25 years his senior -- took to the stage.

To chants of "Macron president!" and "We're going to win," Macron began his speech by paying tribute to his opponents, and praised his supporters for his lightning rise.

"In just one year we have changed the French political landscape," he said. "You gave up your days (for the cause) and when that was not enough, you gave up your nights."

Macron supporters interviewed by AFP said they had been drawn to the candidate because, in their view, he broke with France's polarised politics and backed the European Union.

"We are at a turning point, with a candidate who is moving away from the two-party mould and who is going to renew politics, and it's good news for Europe," said Quentin, a 27-year-old who had travelled from central France.

At the FN's electoral headquarters at Henin-Beaumont in northern France's rundown industrial belt, Le Pen supporters erupted with joy and sang the Marseillaise, the French national anthem, as the first-round projections were announced.

Le Pen, 48, wants France to quit the eurozone, restore border controls and stage a referendum on leaving the EU.

"The first step... has been taken. This result is historic," she said, declaring it "time to liberate the French people".

Le Pen's critics accuse her of sanitising the image of Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and racism associated with her firebrand father.

But Eve Froger, a 20-year-old law student, said Le Pen was the only candidate to combat globalisation.

"She's not just charismatic -- Marine's programme will catalyse France and in particular will help the cause of women, as she's the only one who wants to fight Islamic fundamentalism, which is crushing women in France today."

- Wrecked dreams -

At the Republicans' HQ in Paris, the word "disappointment" was on many lips after former prime minister Francois Fillon -- who just over four months ago had been riding high in the opinion polls -- failed to make the cut.

Many seemed to blame the media for sinking Fillon's chances over allegations that he hired members of his family for fake jobs paid from the public purse.

"For months, the media, all the media, and the CAC40 (stock exchange index) have been campaigning for Macron," law professor Anne-Marie Lepourhiet said bitterly.

For Melenchon supporters gathered in a bar in central Paris, disappointment too was the dominant mood, mingled with pride that his movement -- helped by crowd-pleading appearances by hologram -- had been able to vie for third place after just months of operation.

"I am disgusted," said a supporter who gave only his first name Romain. "But we have achieved something crazy with this spontaneous movement that we have created... the fight will continue."

Among the Socialists, many supporters were ashen-faced that their hope, Benoit Hamon, had been predicted to do badly but was now credited with as little as six percent of the vote.

Hamon himself soberly admitted the party had suffered a "historic drubbing".

In 2012, Francois Hollande won the presidency and went on to command a majority in legislative elections.

Damien, a local civil servant, grimly blamed tactical voting for the crushing defeat -- "the flawed presidential election system which allows voters to carry out power plays".

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