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The Latest: France’s Le Pen needles rival over Merkel visit

People watch a live broadcast television debate with French centrist presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron, right, and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, Wednesday, May 3, 2017, in a bar of Biarritz, southwestern France. Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron exchanged barbs and insults on Wednesday during their sole televised debate ahead of Sunday's runoff election. (AP Photo/Bob Edme)

PARIS (AP) — The Latest on France’s presidential election (all times local):

11:20 p.m.

The two French presidential candidates wrangled relentlessly and insulted each other during more than two hours of debate, and it’s still not over.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen said her rival for the presidency, centrist Emmanuel Macron, had gone to Berlin to “seek the benediction” of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Le Pen says that after Sunday’s runoff election, whoever wins, herself or Macron, “France will be led by a woman, me or Madame Merkel.”

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11:10 p.m.

French presidential hopeful Emmanuel Macron says he is “against everything Marine Le Pen said” on European issues and the euro currency during a televised debate.

Macron insisted the goal of his far-right rival in the presidential race to exit the European Union and the euro currency is “dangerous” and would lead to a potential devaluation of the French currency by 20 to 30 percent.

Le Pen has proposed returning to the French franc following negotiations with other EU members and a voter referendum on the issue.

Macron says France is stronger as part of the EU.

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11:05 p.m.

Far-right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen says that France has “no reason for a Cold War with Russia.”

She spoke during a debate Wednesday with centrist rival Emmanuel Macron.

The populist leader of the National Front party says she is the politician best-placed to hold talks with Russia, the United States under President Donald Trump or Britain as it prepares to depart the European Union.

Le Pen says she’s not concerned about the state of U.S.-Russia ties, but “I hope they will be the best in the world.”

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10:50 p.m.

French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen says that if elected, she would call a referendum on making France more independent of the European Union once she has obtained some measure of sovereignty for the country from the EU.

She says a referendum to restore the French franc at the nation’s currency and adopt other steps toward France independence from the bloc would be held a minimum of six months after she takes office.

She says it also could happen later than that because “I don’t want to create chaos.”

The populist Le Pen spoke Wednesday in a lively debate with her rival for the presidency, pro-EU centrist Emmanuel Macron.

She said she’d would call a referendum once she has obtained assurances from the EU and then ask them if the result was sufficient.

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10:20 p.m.

French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron says his far-right rival Marine Le Pen would lead France to civil war and give Islamic extremists what they want by infringing on the rights of Muslim residents.

Le Pen accused Macron during a televised debate Wednesday night of being complacent on extremism. Macron countered: “What the terrorists expect, it’s civil war, it’s division, it’s heinous speech.”

Le Pen has pledged to shut down a powerful fundamentalist federation linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, known as the Union of Islamic Organizations in France.

Macron insisted he would be “inflexible” and “fight against Islamic terrorism on every front” without exacerbating the problem.

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10:05 p.m.

Far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen accused her centrist rival of being “complacent” about Islamic fundamentalists.

Le Pen said during a debate with Emmanuel Debate ahead of the Sunday runoff election vote that “we must eradicate the Islamist ideology.”

She has pledged to shut down a powerful fundamentalist federation linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, known as the Union of Islamic Organizations in France, or UOIF, and said it supports Macron.

Le Pen also has proposed a series of measures to stamp out the possibility of another new terrorist attack in France, including expelling all foreigners with a file and revoking the French citizenship of dual-nationals under suspicion.

She said to Macron, “You are waiting for an attack” rather than taking proactive measures.

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9:45 p.m.

Centrist French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron is promising to lower taxes for all workers.

During a televised debate with far-right rival Marine Le Pen on Wednesday night, the former economy minister also pledged to grant unemployment benefits to independent craftsmen, merchants and farmers who go bankrupt but are currently not eligible for the benefits.

Macron acknowledged he would raise taxes on retirees who are well-off financially.

He also accused Le Pen of not having a plan to finance the policies she has proposed.

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9:40 p.m.

Far-right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen says she’s the candidate of buying power and her centrist rival is the candidate of buying.

Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron exchanged barbs and insults on Wednesday during their sole televised debate ahead of Sunday’s runoff election.

Le Pen said to Macron, a former economy minister and investment banker: “I’m the candidate of buying power. You’re the candidate of buying, buying up France.”

The nationalist Le Pen’s campaign is being watched as a barometer of the appeal of populist politicians in Europe.

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9:28 p.m.

Far-right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen has clashed in a heated debate with her centrist rival Emmanuel Macron over how to jump-start the floundering French economy and create jobs.

The two presidential candidates came out fighting at the start of Wednesday’s debate, the only face-to-face confrontation ahead of Sunday’s runoff election.

The anti-European Union Le Pen told Macron, a former economy minister and one-time investment banker, that for him, “the law of the strongest must apply.”

She said “radical” changes are needed to reduce the country’s 10 percent unemployment rate.

Differences included how to negotiate the 35-hour work week currently in place. Len Pen advocates talks by sector instead of by company.

She claimed Macron’s choices amount to “fratricide” because they pit one group, class or company against another.

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9:12 p.m.

Centrist French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron has derisively referred to far-rival Marine Le Pen as “an heir,” reminding voters that the name Le Pen has been an inglorious part of French politics for 40 years.

Macron told Le Pen at the start of their televised debate Wednesday: “You are the heir of a name, of a political party.”

It was a reference to her father, National Front party co-founded Jean-Marie Le Pen. He was expelled from the party in 2015 after he reiterated anti-Semitic comments.

Jean-Marie Le Pen ran five times for the presidency; Marine Le Pen is making her second attempt.

Macron is a newcomer in politics and unknown to French people until he became Socialist President Francois Hollande’s economy minister. He launched a political movement last year to support his presidential bid.

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9:00 p.m.

France’s presidential candidates have started debating on national television in their only televised one-to-one before the runoff election.

The far-right leader of the National Front party, Marine Le Pen, and independent centrist Emmanuel Macron sat a table facing each other, with photos of the Elysee palace projected behind them.

They being are questioned in the Wednesday debate by two journalists from TF1 and France 2, the country’s major television channels.

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8:30 p.m.

Far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen and untested centrist Emmanuel Macron have arrived at a television studio outside Paris ahead of a high-stakes debate and shown there is unlikely to be any common ground in their verbal showdown.

Their one-on-one debate on Wednesday is scheduled to be the only direct confrontation between the candidates ahead of Sunday’s runoff election for the presidency.

Between the anti-EU Le Pen and pro-European Macron, the two offer polar-opposite platforms.

Le Pen said upon her arrival at the studio that she hopes the debate will help the millions of undecided French make up their minds between “continuity or change that I represent.”

Macron says he wants to show that Le Pen’s platform “cannot respond to the challenges of the country.”

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11:55 a.m.

Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen are preparing for their one-on-one televised French presidential election debate, with much at stake for both contenders.

They are expected to square off for more than two hours Wednesday in their final showdown before Sunday’s runoff vote.

The latest opinion polls show the pro-EU Macron holding a strong lead over his far-right rival Le Pen.

Macron, who has been criticized for his early celebrations after he finished nearly three points ahead of Le Pen in the first-round vote April 23, needs to convince leftist voters that his pro-business and liberal stance should not deter them from supporting him. Le Pen is expected to hammer home her favorite themes of security and identity.

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