May 3, 2017 / 7:43 PM / 3 years ago

French presidential rivals clash in crucial TV debate

Candidates for the 2017 presidential election, Emmanuel Macron (R), head of the political movement En Marche !, or Onwards !, and Marine Le Pen, of the French National Front (FN) party, pose prior to the start of a live prime-time debate in the studios of French television station France 2, and French private station TF1 in La Plaine-Saint-Denis, near Paris, France, May 3, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Feferberg/Pool

PARIS (Reuters) - Far-right leader Marine Le Pen criticized Emmanuel Macron, her centrist rival for the French presidency, as a “smirking banker” representing globalization gone wild when the two met in a crucial pre-election TV debate on Wednesday.

“Mr Macron is the candidate of globalization, Uberisation,” Le Pen said, firing an opening salvo. “And all of this has been directed by Mr (outgoing Socialist President Francois) Hollande.”

After being attacked by Le Pen for not preventing big French companies from being sold to foreign firms, Macron said she had not properly prepared for the debate and did not seem to understand economic issues.

“You’re talking nonsense,” Macron, a one-time economy minister under Hollande and a former investment banker, replied. “You are not answering the questions.”

Voters go to the polls on Sunday to choose between Macron and Le Pen in what is widely seen as France’s most important election in decades with implications for its role in Europe and the world.

Reporting by Michel Rose and Ingrid Melander; Editing by Richard Balmforth

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