Polling agency projections show far-right leader Marine Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron leading in the first-round French presidential election.
The results could set up a duel between a young candidate with no electoral experience and the woman who remade the image of a party tainted by racism and anti-Semitism.
The race is seen as a litmus test for the spread of populism and could help determine Europe’s future. With most polls just closed, it remained too early to say who advances to the May 7 runoff. Close behind were far-left contender Jean-Luc Melenchon and conservative Francois Fillon.
The projections are based on vote counts in select constituencies, then extrapolated nationwide. If Le Pen and Macron’s leads hold, it would be the first time in modern French history that no major-party candidate has advanced.
The top two winners on Sunday will advance to a May 7 runoff.
Voter turnout in France’s close presidential election is above 69 percent in late afternoon, almost as high as the last presidential vote.
The Interior Ministry announced Sunday that the turnout had reached 69.4 percent, compared to 70.6 percent in the first round of presidential voting in 2012.
After years of economic stagnation and high unemployment, voter disillusionment is exceptionally high this year, prompting expectations of lower-than-usual turnout
Sunny weather in much of France may have played a role. Some pollsters also said an attack on police Thursday may have prodded voters into taking part in the election.
Ode to Joy
Thousands of people were rallying in Berlin to show their support for the idea of a united Europe and for a pro-European outcome for France’s presidential election.
The weekly demonstrations organized by a grassroots group in Germany and other European countries calling itself Pulse of Europe began at the end of 2016 to counter growing nationalist sentiment and opposition to the European Union.
On Sunday, thousands showed up at the German capital’s Gendarmenmarkt square. They waved the star-spangled blue flags of Europe, held up signs like “Berlin loves France” and sang Europe’s “Ode to Joy” anthem.
In Montreal, thousands of French citizens have waited in lines that snaked at one point to eight blocks long to cast their votes in France’s presidential election.
Polls opened Saturday morning in Canada’s main French speaking city, home to Quebec’s highest population of French nationals. French citizens lined up to vote at Montreal’s only polling station at Stanislas College in Outremont.
The vote in mainland France is happening Sunday, but polling stations in France’s far-flung overseas territories and in embassies around the world opened on Saturday to allow enough time to collate the vote results altogether.
Outgoing French President Francois Hollande has said the best message of this election would be “to show democracy is stronger than anything” by going out to vote.
Hollande, who is not standing for re-election, oversaw tight security measures for Sunday’s first round poll to help prevent disruption after Thursday’s deadly attack on the Champs-Elysees.
His government mobilized over 50,000 police and gendarmes to protect polling stations.
Voting in his political fiefdom of Tulle in Correze, southwestern France, Hollande said that “we are in such a time, and sadly it’s nothing new and not about to end now, when we must mobilize a lot of means.”
He called the measures a “guarantee to the French people this fundamental right of choosing their future.”
A voting station in eastern France has reopened after being evacuated because of a suspicious vehicle parked nearby.
Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet told The Associated Press that the voting station in Besancon was evacuated while explosives experts examined the car, but they deemed there to be no risk.
He said no other incidents have been reported in Sunday’s first-round presidential election.
Tens of thousands of security forces are guarding voting stations across France after an attack in Paris on Thursday revived security concerns. France remains under a state of emergency after deadly Islamic extremist attacks in recent years.
Topless demonstrators from the Femen activist group have caused a commotion as they staged a stunt against Marine Le Pen outside a polling station where the far-right presidential candidate was heading to vote.
Around six topless Femen activists were detained Sunday morning after jumping out of an SUV limo wearing masks of Le Pen and United States President Donald Trump.
Police and security forces quickly forced them into police vans, confiscating their signs.
Le Pen voted at the station shortly after without further disruption.
The election is taking place amid heightened security. The government has mobilized more than 50,000 police and gendarmes to protect polling stations.