Le Pen says voters must choose ‘for or against’ France

The candidates’ starkly differing visions on France’s future are at the heart of the May 7 election run-off — with Macron, a 39-year-old former banker embracing free trade and the EU, while Le Pen wants to seal France’s borders and quit the euro.

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“The country Mr Macron wants is no longer France, it’s a space, a wasteland, a trading room where there are only consumers and producers,” Le Pen told a cheering crowd of some 4,000 supporters in the Riviera city of Nice, a rightwing stronghold.

“It’s no longer a nation but a splintered multicultural society… where the only law is the survival of the fittest,” said Le Pen, who got fresh bad news Thursday in the “fake jobs” scandal afflicting her National Front (FN) party.

“This election is a referendum for or against France… I’m asking you to choose France,” she said.

But Le Pen, who the latest polls suggest is some 20 points behind her rival, also sought to cast a reassuring image aimed at broadening voter support for her anti-immigrant, anti-EU camp.

“I pay no attention to your origins, your religion, your sexual orientation, the colour of your skin,” she told the flag-waving crowd. “That doesn’t interest me, what interests me is you.”

She has campaigned fiercely since she and Macron qualified Sunday for the runoff, while Macron was accused of a laggardly start to his second-round efforts but has stepped up the pace over the past 24 hours.

WATCH Anti-Le Pen protests break out in Paris

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Related reading’Neither banker, nor racist’ 

The former economy minister, speaking at nearly the same time as Le Pen on French television, said he aimed to heal the divide in France over its relationship with the EU.

“I will defend (the EU) by reforming it,” he said. “Our challenge is to reconcile our citizens with the EU… which we need to provide more protection to our citizens amid globalisation.”

Macron was booed and heckled on Wednesday when he visited a Whirlpool factory in the northern city of Amiens, his hometown, where the US appliances giant is threatening to partially outsource production to Poland.

The besuited candidate had been meeting with union representatives kilometres away from the plant, but he was upstaged when Le Pen showed up at the factory unannounced.

Her appearance forced a hasty change in plans and Macron ended up spending more than an hour debating with workers amid chaotic scenes as dozens of TV camera teams crowded around him.

He left the incident relatively unscathed, and even shook hands with some workers before leaving.

Macron and Le Pen topped the first round of the election on Sunday to advance to the runoff, but not everyone is happy with the line-up.

On Thursday, students demonstrating against both candidates clashed with police in Paris, hurled bottles at the officers who responded with tear gas.

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Black-clad demonstrators broke off from a 1,000-strong crowd of mostly teens waving signs that said “Neither the banker, nor the racist”.

The latest poll suggests Macron will defeat Le Pen by a margin of 21 points in the runoff on May 7, and figures from France’s traditional left and right — both absent from the second round — have backed him too.

Le Pen journeyed to the Mediterranean coast Thursday to spend the morning aboard a fishing trawler, seeking to portray herself as the protector of small-time producers.

Five million euros 

The “Battle of Amiens” at the Whirlpool factory — as leftwing daily Liberation called it — was the standout moment of the election so far, even though the candidates were not at the site at the same time.

Much of campaign was dominated by the legal woes engulfing conservative Francois Fillon, whose campaign was dogged by allegations he paid his wife millions in public money for little work. He lost in Sunday’s first round.

But on Thursday there was a reminder of the allegations of wrongdoing also hanging over Le Pen.

Investigators probing alleged FN expenses fraud at the European Parliament said the sum involved was now believed to be nearly five million euros ($5.5 million), more than twice an initial estimate.

The parliament accuses the FN of using funds meant for parliamentary assistants to pay staff including a bodyguard to work in France between 2012 and 2017, which contravenes the assembly’s rules.

In March, Le Pen invoked her immunity as an MEP in refusing to submit to questioning by French prosecutors until after the election.

“Five million euros, that’s nonsense,” said Wallerand de Saint Just, National Front party treasurer.

WATCH: Macron booed in Le Pen country

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Crows recall Jenkins for big AFL clash

Adelaide have some unwelcome AFL selection news for Richmond coach Damien Hardwick, with Josh Jenkins named to return in Sunday’s blockbuster.

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The ladder-leading Crows also kept defender Daniel Talia in their lineup, despite last weekend’s hamstring injury.

Earlier on Friday, Hardwick had half-jokingly mused it would be good if the Tigers did not have to face Jenkins and Andy Otten.

“Otten has been really good for them,” Hardwick said.

“With Talia playing as well, they probably have some selection headaches.

“Jenkins is a very, very good player, but Andy Otten has been in good form as well.

“It would be handy if one of those boys didn’t play.”

Jake Kelly was also recalled to take on Richmond, who are also unbeaten, while Troy Menzel was dropped and Riley Knight has a hamstring injury.

Richmond’s Steve Morris is back for his first game since suffering a serious knee injury midway through last season and Nick Vlastuin is also back, while Todd Elton and Connor Menadue were left out.

Essendon and Melbourne made a combined nine changes for Sunday’s Etihad Stadium and Bombers veteran Brent Stanton was a high-profile casualty.

The Bombers dropped Stanton after his quiet Anzac Day match.

Ruckman Tom Bellchambers will play his first senior game this season and the Bombers also brought back Ben Howlett, Martin Gleeson and Conor McKenna.

James Kelly, Aaron Francis and Matthew Leuenberger were also left out as Essendon deal with their five-day turnaround.

Melbourne midfielder Jordan Lewis is back from his three-game suspension and Cam Pedersen is their stop-gap ruckman.

The Demons also named Tomas Bugg, Oscar McDonald and Mitch Hannan.

Apart from Jake Spencer (shoulder), Tim Smith (rib) and Jesse Hogan (family bereavement), Melbourne dropped Bill Stretch and James Harmes.

Collingwood made two changes for Sunday’s MCG match against Geelong, resting Ben Reid and also leaving out Jackson Ramsay.

Former Demon Lynden Dunn will make his Magpies debut and Josh Smith returns.

The unbeaten Cats recalled Jed Bews and Sam Menegola for Daniel Menzel and Jackson Thurlow

Buckley has no regrets on AFL finals talk

Nathan Buckley has no regrets about tying his coaching future to Collingwood making the AFL finals, despite the inevitable consequences.

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The Magpies’ spluttering 1-4 start, coming off the back of no finals since 2013 and Buckley’s comments last August about his future, have ramped up the pressure.

Their high-profile Anzac Day loss to Essendon made Buckley the story of the week.

Buckley acknowledged it was a “good question” when asked on Friday if he regretted his comments last year in a radio interview.

“I’ve always had fairly high expectations … .my wife has very high expectations of me, my father has always had high expectations of me,”‘ Buckley said.

“I’m not saying we’re high-performing at the moment, but high performers everywhere always put a little bit more pressure on themselves than others do.”

But Buckley remains upbeat and says Collingwood are relishing the challenge of playing unbeaten Geelong off a five-day break.

The Magpies coach said after the Essendon loss that while they were not far off, they are also a mile off.

Their biggest loss is only 19 points, but they are floundering in attack.

“We’ve had a really good week – we’ve emphasised the things we’re doing okay, we’ve identified a couple of the areas and themes that we really want to continue to work on,” he said.

“We believe if we get that right, we’re going to be pretty hard to beat.

“We’re not looking at bridging a gap of two or three goals … we think we’re leaving eight, nine, 10 goals out on the park.

“We’re still aiming to play finals – we’re 1-4 and we play a top-of-the-table Cats team.

“That’s as far as we’re looking, that’s as far as we can afford to look.”

Buckley was asked how he is coping.

“I’m going OK – I tell you what I do have is great support, internally,”‘ he said.

“I’ve actually been asked that question a fair bit, this week in particular.

“That’s the great thing about footy clubs – I actually probably think about it more when people ask about it, than when I’m in my quiet moments.”

Magpies president Eddie McGuire strongly backed Buckley publicly in the aftermath of Anzac Day.

Buckley said that backing throughout the club is genuine.

“It’s definitely still outside the four walls,” Buckley said of the negative commentary surrounding his team.

“We’re tight-knit, we’re in it for the same reasons and we want to be successful.

“Eddie’s support is appreciated and the old ‘full support of the board’ – I get it, but I feel it as well.”

Meanwhile, Buckley said there is nothing wrong physically with captain Scott Pendlebury, who said Anzac Day was probably his worst game in 10 years.

“The speculation has only come from the fact that you’re not seeing the performance from a player (who) you expect a certain level of performance from,” Buckley said.

“So we ask the same questions.

“It does beg the question, but he feels up and about and looking forward to Sunday.”

‘Patchy’ Dogs building AFL form: Murphy

Bulldogs skipper Bob Murphy is confident the reigning premiers are building on a patchy start ahead of Friday night’s AFL blockbuster against GWS in Canberra.

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The Dogs are sitting pretty at 4-1 but haven’t looked their convincing best. In last week’s win over Brisbane – Murphy’s 300th game – they had to claw back a six-goal deficit after halftime.

Luke Beveridge’s men will be put to the test when they face the Giants in a rematch of their instant classic preliminary final.

Forced to watch last year’s epic clash from the sidelines, Murphy is expecting another fierce contest.

The 34-year-old admits the Dogs are still finding their straps but believes they are heading in the right direction and will peak at the right time.

“I think we’re building, and I think we’ve improved each week,” Murphy told AAP.

“It’s a 22-round steeplechase and then the finals, so it’s a long way to go.

“Our form’s a little bit patchy but we’re able to get the wins on the board, and at this time of year, we’ll take that.”

Classy midfielder Caleb Daniel and teenager Bailey Williams have been recalled in place of veteran Matthew Boyd (back) and Shane Biggs (omitted).

With Beveridge not hesitant to make changes to his flag-winning side, Murphy says team chemistry hasn’t been an issue.

“We had a lot of guys play last year – we’ve had a lot of injuries – so we’ve been able to absorb a lot of change over the last few years,” he said.

“We’ll tinker with our side for the rest of the year, as most sides will. So far, it’s all going to plan.”

While Murphy has resumed leadership duties after his injury lay-off, premiership captain Easton Wood clearly remains a key leader at Whitten Oval.

The defender’s impassioned on-field address at halftime against Brisbane sent the Dogs on a massive run, booting 12 goals to two after the main break.

“We’ve got quite a bit of experience in our leadership group, and Easton’s one of those guys,” Murphy said.

“On occasion, he will take the group and speak as passionately as any of us. He cares a lot about the team and he was quite inspirational on the weekend.”