French election: Marine Le Pen through to run-off
FRENCH far-right leader Marine Le Pen has hailed a "historic" result after she reached the run-off of the presidential election by finishing second behind centrist Emmanuel Macron in the first round.
"This result is historic, the first step has been taken," she told cheering supporters. "It is time to liberate the French people."
She said her National Front party will represent "the great alternative" to the French people.
Ms Le Pen has campaigned to leave the European Union, protect France's borders, clamp down on immigration, and expel Islamic extremists.
Her success, along with that of centrist newcomer Mr Macron, leaves the May 7 run-off without a mainstream political candidate for the first time in modern French history.
ELECTION PUTS FRANCE ON EDGE
Security agencies in France were placed on red alert as the nation voted for a new president, amid fears of fresh jihadist terror attacks and riots in the Parisian suburbs.
More than 50,000 police and 7000 soldiers were deployed across France for the voting on Sunday, with the top two candidates who will go through to the final round due to be revealed in the early hours of today (Australian time).
The election was being held under state of emergency laws, which were introduced after 130 people died in the terror attacks on restaurants and the Bataclan theatre in November 2015.
Four of the 11 candidates stand a realistic chance of making it through, with the last opinion polls on Thursday and Friday showing the centre-left independent, Mr Macron, and the hard-Right National Front leader, Ms Le Pen, tied with 23 per cent each of the vote.
The hard-Left communist candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon was on 19.5 per cent, while the conservative Republican Francois Fillon was on 19 per cent, putting all four candidates within the margin on error.
A terror attack on Thursday night in Paris which saw a French citizen and Islamic extremist, Karim Cheurfi, kill one police officer and seriously wound two others, on the famed Champs Elysees boulevard, disrupted the final day of the campaign, when the main candidates cancelled their final day of campaigning events.
French intelligence services are now warning of both a jihadist threat and civil unrest in the wake of the ballot.
In a document obtained by Le Parisian newspaper, the security agencies warn of potential security threats, including the "jihadist threat,'' and demonstrations which could turn violent.
According to the paper, demonstrations are likely in major cities and the disenfranchised "banliues'', or outer suburban estates which often erupt into violence, after the results are handed down about 6pm Sunday night (2am AEST).
More than 80 per cent of France's near-47 million registered voters were expected to turn out to choose a new president to replace the retiring Francois Hollande.
And more than one million French citizens are eligible to vote in the former colonies in Africa, the South Pacific and the Caribbean, as well as expats across the world including in Australia.
On Sunday morning, as voting was underway, a polling station was evacuated when police discovered a shotgun.
The Express reported voters were rushed out of the polling station after a stolen vehicle was abandoned outside with the engine running while voting was taking place.
Bomb disposal experts were called to examine the vehicle. It was reported witnesses saw two occupants get out and run away, leaving the engine to run. Police rushed to the scene and found what they believed to be a shotgun.