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Tuesday May 23rd, 2017 10:29PM

The Latest: Turnout a bit lower than in 2012 French election

By The Associated Press
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PARIS (AP) — The Latest on France's presidential runoff between centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen (all times local):

12:10 p.m.

France's Interior Ministry says the voter turnout in the country's presidential runoff election so far is running slightly lower than it was in 2012.

The ministry said as of midday Sunday that 28.23 percent of eligible voters had cast ballots, compared with the 30.66 percent half-day tally during the last presidential runoff five years ago.

Centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron was considered the front-runner going into the runoff.

But commentators think a low voter turnout would benefit far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, whose supporters are seen as more committed and therefore more likely to show up to vote.

The last polling stations close at 8 p.m. (1800GMT.)

___

11:20 a.m.

Far-right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen has cast her ballot in Henin-Beaumont, a small northern town controlled by her National Front party.

Le Pen arrived at the polling station with Henin-Beaumont Mayor Steeve Briois, who took over as the National Front's leader during the presidential election campaign.

She was able to vote without any incident after feminist activists were briefly detained a couple of hours earlier Sunday for hanging a big anti-Le Pen banner from a church.

Polls suggest centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron is favored to beat Le Pen in Sunday's runoff election.

While Le Pen has worked hard to rid her nationalistic party of its xenophobic image, she has campaigned on an anti-immigration, anti-EU platform.

The election is being watched as a bellwether for populism's global appeal.

___

11:00 a.m.

Centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron, the front-runner in France's presidential election, has voted in the coastal town of Le Tourquet in northern France alongside his wife, Brigitte Macron.

The former Socialist economy minister and one-time banker was all smiles and petted a black dog as he stepped out of his vacation home in the seaside resort.

For security reasons, Macron was driven to his nearby polling station at Le Touquet City Hall and shook hands with a large crowd of supporters before he and his wife entered the building.

Macron had a large polling lead over far-right leader Marine Le Pen going into Sunday's presidential runoff election.

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10:25 a.m.

Outgoing French president Francois Hollande has cast his vote in the runoff election to replace him.

Hollande voted Sunday morning in his political fiefdom of Tulle in southwestern France.

Hollande, the most unpopular French leader in the country's modern history, decided not to stand for re-election last year.

The Socialist president has called on voters to reject far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and to back centrist Emmanuel Macron, his former protégé.

The Socialist candidate, Benoit Hamon, was eliminated in the election's first round after receiving some 6 percent of the vote.

___

10:20 a.m.

Police and soldiers are working to secure symbolic Paris venues where France's next president will celebrate victory after Sunday's runoff election between centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen.

Macron has opted for the dignified Esplanade du Louvre, the courtyard of the renowned museum in central Paris. The Louvre is already heavily guarded after an extremist attacker targeted soldiers near the museum during the presidential campaign.

If Le Pen wins, she plans to celebrate at the Chalet du Lac (sha-LAY doo lahk) in the Bois de Vincennes (bu-AH de vin-SEN) , a vast park on Paris' eastern edge. She is notably staying away from the area around the Paris Opera, associated with her father's past xenophobic reign over her National Front party.

Celebration sites have a huge symbolic power, and both candidates are trying to break with the past and the traditional left-right divide. It's no wonder Macron didn't choose the Bastille or Republique squares, two highly popular places for the left, or the Place de la Concorde, where former right-wing President Nicolas Sarkozy celebrated his victory.

___

9:10 a.m.

Feminist activists have hung a big banner from a church to protest French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen in the depressed northern town where she is casting her ballot.

The activists were quickly detained after the protest Sunday in Henin-Beaumont, the latest among many actions in recent days against Le Pen or against both candidates.

Polls suggest centrist Emmanuel Macron is favored to beat Le Pen in Sunday's runoff election.

Parisian voter Yves Robert staged his own kind of protest, casting a blank ballot. Many voters like him are both worried about the racist past of Le Pen's National Front party and worried about the 39-year-old Macron's inexperience or his pro-business policies.

Retiree Gabrielle Lebbe says she voted because she's "worried for my grandchildren, I'm worried for the world."

___

8 a.m.

Voters across France are casting ballots in a presidential election runoff that could decide Europe's future, choosing between independent Emmanuel Macron and far-right populist Marine Le Pen.

With Macron the pollsters' favorite, voting stations opened across mainland France at 8 a.m. (0600 GMT) under the watch of 50,000 security forces guarding against extremist attacks. Polling agency projections and initial official results will be available when the final stations close at 8 p.m. (1800 GMT).

The unusually tense and unpredictable French presidential campaign ended with a hacking attack and document leak targeting Macron on Friday night. France's government cybersecurity agency is investigating the hack.

Either candidate would lead France into uncharted territory, since neither comes from the mainstream parties that dominate parliament and have run the country for decades.

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, AP Elections, General Presidential Election News, AP World News, AP Elections - Campaigns
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