The race is seen as a litmus test for the spread of populism and could help determine Europe's future. "But for the past 10 years, left-wing and right-wing governments have done everything they can for us to lose it", Le Pen said days before the election, after a French citizen killed a police officer and wounded two more on the landmark Champs-Elysees boulevard in an attack for which the Islamic State asserted responsibility.
The figures do not include results from France's major cities, where Le Pen's level of support tends to be low relative to smaller towns and villages where counts were complete.
Both Le Pen and Melenchon - from opposite extremes of the political spectrum - could eventually pull France out of the 28-nation bloc and its shared euro currency in a so-called "Frexit".
French commentators said the vote mark the end of a political era since the two parties, which have traditionally been the pillars of France's political arena, the Socialist party and Les Republicains, are expected to be eliminated in the first round of the election.
"We can't respond with the same men and the same ideas", Macron said as he launched his presidential bid in November at a jobs training centre in a gritty Parisian suburb. The candidate of the ruling French Socialists, Benoit Hamon, managed only about 6 per cent in a distant fifth place.
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Coming after the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States and after the "Brexit" decision of British voters to quit the European Union, few experts dare rule out a shock, and all of the likely outcomes will usher in a period of political uncertainty in France.
It also saw her deny French state complicity rounding up Jews for the Nazis in the Second World War, but she also picked up muted plaudits from US President Donald Trump.
Addressing a crowd of cheering supporters in Paris, Macron projected to top Sunday's first round of voting said: "In your name, I will be. the voice of hope for our country and for Europe".
Macron, only 39, is seeking to become France's youngest ever president and has campaigned on a strongly pro-EU and pro-business platform.
With only an hour to go until the results of the French Presidential first round are declared, the initial forecasting and some private polling indicators suggest that the run-off will, as the polls predicted, be between Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen. They burst into a rendition of the French national anthem, and waved French flags and blue flags with "Marine President" inscribed on them.
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"The election of Marine Le Pen would make Brexit look trivial by comparison".
Admitting defeat, François Fillon, whose campaign was rocked by corruption allegations, said there was "no other choice" but to vote for Mr Macron.
"I'm in favour of Emmanuel Macron - it's my duty". Le Pen will force Macron to answer for the status quo and he's probably not going to have any new answers that will satisfy the disaffected. "You've said nothing!" she said.
But Fillon's wife, the scandal-hit Penelope Fillon, was conspicuously absent from her husband's side and voted 250 kilometers (155 miles) away near their 14th century manor house in Sarthe.
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