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Summary

  1. France's two presidential candidates go on the offensive in crucial debate
  2. The far right's Marine Le Pen brands her opponent a "candidate of the elite"
  3. Centrist Emmanuel Macron strikes back, accusing her of lying
  4. The two argue over terrorism, the French economy and Europe
  5. Four days from the poll, the debate is seen as the last real chance for Le Pen to close the gap on Macron in the polls
  6. The last time the far right came this close to power was in 2002 under Marine Le Pen's father, Jean-Marie Le Pen
  7. Some 20 million French viewers are expected to tune in for the debate, due to last 2 hours and 20 minutes

Live Reporting

By Vicky Baker, Tom Spender, Patrick Jackson and Jasmine Taylor-Coleman

All times stated are UK

That's it for now

And that concludes our live coverage of one of the most memorable presidential debates in French history, astonishing in its passion, if not downright viciousness.

Join us again on Sunday, election day itself, to see what verdict France passes on Mr Macron and Ms Le Pen. 

Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron before their debate, 3 May
Reu

Le Pen pleased her supporters - is it enough?

The BBC's Thomas Fessy asks whether Le Pen will have convinced the undecided. 

View more on twitter

Watch the debate back

If you've been following our text updates, here is a video round-up of some of moments of the debate - with the candidates setting out their positions on the fight against terrorism and their visions for France.

French debate: Macron and Le Pen set out their stance

The race is not run just yet

There's still more campaigning to be done, the BBC's Gavin Lee tweets.

#Débat2017 over. Two more full days of campaigning across France now remaining. #LePen heading north. #Macron to th… twitter.com/i/web/status/8…

So who won?

France 2 TV's Guillaume Daret asked people to make their judgement on Twitter.

It's not an official poll, but of 676 votes cast at the time of writing, 60% give it to Macron, 24% say Le Pen and 16% say neither.

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The best or the worst?

"We may have just watched the worst debate in the history of the 5th Republic," says French journalist Bruno Jeudy on BFMTV.

#Debat2017 Analyse. "On a peut-être assisté au pire des débats de la Vème République" - Bruno Jeudy

'Phew, it's over!'

"I've rarely felt so much pleasure at hearing the word 'end'," tweets a member of France's Left Party (Parti de Gauche).

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'Calm down' - 'No you calm down'

A cartoonist sums the debate up as both candidates each attempting to demonstrate their Gallic sang-froid by telling the other to calm down...

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'You stay on TV - I want to lead the country'

The two candidates traded barbs right up until the end of the debate. Macron accused Le Pen of telling lies about his project without ever saying what she herself proposes.

"I refuse the spirit of defeat and hatred proposed by the National Front," he says. "We've always been a generous and open country."

As the debate closed, Le Pen joked: "Ha - like Francois Hollande."

Macron hit back.

"You stay on TV," he said. "I want to lead the country."

Two and a half hours of heat

And it's over! The actual vote will be on Sunday.

Top gif of the night?

It's all in the hands.

View more on twitter

Le Pen: I like France as it is

"People will say I am old-fashioned, but I like France as it is, with its culture, its language, its borders."

She says Macron wants to shut down hospitals and factories.

"The only thing you don’t want to close is the borders."

Macron: You don't care about France

In a soft voice, Macron brutally lays into Le Pen.

"The country is not important to you, you don't have a project.

"Your campaign of lies and falsification feeds off fear. It is fear that nourishes you.

"I don't want this for France - it is worth more than that.

"I understand the anger of our fellow citizens. I want to bring a deep response.

"I want a France that is reconciled with itself and one that is truly transformed."

Final words?

The debate is running 10 minutes late already.The candidates are now summing up what they stand for. 

Macron: Focus on overseas and disadvantaged

In his two minutes of allotted time, Macron says he wants to pay more attention to France's overseas territories.

He also wants to improve opportunities for disadvantaged people, particularly the young.

"I want pragmatic solutions," he says.

Le Pen: Your France is a trading room

"The France that you defend isn't France, it's a trading room," she tells Macron, hinting at his past as an investment banker and economy minister.

She says her vision of France is about solidarity, culture and hope. 

"France was thrown into chaos by your [political] friends," she says. 

Macron: You spread hatred

"You are the far right. You spread lies on social media. You spread hatred. You molest journalists," he says.

"This is not what our France looks like."

In two minutes

The two candidates have each been given two minutes to talk about any issue they like as the debate draws to a close. 

Macron: You're not worthy

The candidates trade vicious barbs over probity.

Does Macron have an offshore bank account? Who knows, wonders Le Pen. Macron accuses her of defamation.

As well as raising the subject of fraud allegations against her, he accuses her of threatening civil servants and badmouthing judges when they say things she doesn't like.

"You are not worthy of running these institutions because you threaten them," he says.

Miss Piggy v Kermit The Frog

John Lichfield, a British journalist based in Paris, gives his assessment of how the pair are doing:

French debate: an over-aggressive Miss Piggy versus a nerdy but coherent Kermit the Frog. The frog is winning hands down.

That fraud accusation

Macron has just raised Le Pen's legal troubles. Whatever the outcome of Sunday's election, she faces allegations that she defrauded the European Parliament of about €5m (£4m; $5.4m), EU sources said last week. The parliament suspects the money went to National Front (FN) assistants who were not really working for MEPs, but were engaged in FN party work in France. The allegations - denied by the FN - have now gone to French investigators. 

Read more: National Front 'took 5m euros from EU'

Trying to be heard

The BBC's Gavin Lee feels for the moderators.

#Macron #LePen talk on their visions for French education. Presenters are still struggling to make themselves heard above the insult trading

Macron: Fewer MPs

He wants the number of MPs to be rapidly reduced by a third.

'They loathe each other'

The BBC's Hugh Schofield in Paris gives us his evaluation of the proceedings so far:

This has got to go down as one of the great debates. The ones that people remember.

From Marine Le Pen, the aggression of the demagogue, the venom, the constant niggling remarks designed to get under her adversary’s skin.

And from Emmanuel Macron, the Cartesian rationality of the brilliant French technocrat.

There is not the slightest point of similarity between these two leaders. They are diametrical opposites. Their personalities clash;  their politics clash; they loathe each other.

It is a great service they are providing in this debate – because they are laying bare in all its stark newness the great division of our times: not between left and right, but between the nation and the world.

It is a debate which echoes far beyond the borders of France – which is why this fiery confrontation will go down in the annals.

Le Pen: Base university admissions on merit

"Schools have been ransacked by the socialists," she says.

She says university criteria should be based on merit, as selection at the moment is "like a lottery system".

She wants secularism to be promoted in all schools and universities. 

Macron: Focus on primary schools

"The mother of battles is the primary school," he says.

Literacy rates are concerning and those who can't read and write will fail later in their education, he says.

He wants to tackle this and also wants measures including the reintroduction of Latin studies in college.

Finally he wants more apprenticeships - not all pupils will want to pursue further education, he says.

Where do they stand: Education

A classroom in Asnieres-sur-Seine, north-west Paris
AFP

Macron:

  • At the age of 18 French teenagers will get a "Cultural Pass" worth €500 to spend on cultural pursuits such as the cinema, theatre, books
  • Ban children's use of mobile phones at school 

Le Pen:

  • Prioritise teaching of French, history and maths 
  • Restore school uniforms and respect for teachers

School's in

With 15 minutes to go, the discussion moves to education.  

Le Pen on Russia

Le Pen is asked for her views on Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

"Russia hasn’t show any hostility to France. I don’t care what the relationship between the US and Russia is." 

Sound bite of the night?

The BBC's Gavin Lee tweets one of Le Pen's lines. Her implication is that Macron will submit to the German chancellor if he is elected. 

"Europe will be led by a woman. Madame Merkel or me." One of the most memorable quotes of head to head so far from #LePen #2017LeDebat

Le Pen: France must be France

"France will be respected if it is France," she says.

"France has loss its specific voice because it is subservient to Germany, the US," she says.

Macron: I will not submit to Putin

How would Macron approach Presidents Trump and Putin?

He says he would keep working with Trump's America, he says. 

"We still have an independent voice but we need this strong cooperation for our security."

He also wants to work with Mr Trump on environmental issues.

As for the Russian president, Macron says Putin is "at the table on many issues". 

"But I will never submit to Putin's diktats," he says. "That's the big difference between me and Ms Le Pen." 

Trump and Putin

Now Macron and Le Pen are being asked about their foreign policy priorities beyond the EU. 

President Putin
Reuters
How will the candidates work with President Putin?

Macron: Germany is not our foe

French interests do not clash with German interests, Macron says.

Our real economic foe is China, he says.

Le Pen on working with Merkel

“The savings of French people are under threat because of Europe,” says Le Pen.

She tries to present Macron as weak against German Chancellor Angela Merkel, implying that he will not stand up against her. 

Macron: I want to work with Germany

Accused of adopting a subservient attitude to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Macron says he does indeed want a France that cooperates with Germany.

"Stop these ridiculous formulations," he says.

Catch-up

If you are just joining, we are into the last 30 minutes or so of France's furious final presidential debate. Centrist newcomer Emmanuel Macron has his comfortable lead in the opinion polls to conserve until Sunday. Marine Le Pen has to pull off a knockout blow if she has any chance of being elected for the far right. The gloves came off early and both contenders show no sign of flagging. Stray with us for soundbites, analysis and reaction.      

Preparations for the debate, 3 May
AFP

Thirsty viewing

These Macron supporters have been watching from a bar in Paris.

Macron supporters in Paris, 3 May
EP

Macron: You're the fearmonger

Macron hits back at allegations he is using fear to argue against leaving the euro.

On terrorism and other issues, it is Le Pen who uses fear to influence French voters, he says.