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Le Pen concedes as Macron wins in a landslide; he will be youngest president in French history

Emmanuel Macron's victory came despite low turnout, which was expected to benefit Marine Le Pen, and a last-minute dump of hacked Macron campaign documents. (May 7, 2017)

The centrist Emmanuel Macron won a landslide victory over his far-right rival, Marine Le Pen, on Sunday, beating back her nationalist, anti-immigrant campaign to become the youngest president-elect in France's history.

Voters strongly rejected Le Pen's populist rhetoric in an election that posed one of the starkest choices the French have faced in a generation. Provisional results showed Macron with 65.1% to Le Pen's 34.9%.

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Macron said he was grateful for the confidence French voters had shown him and that he had a message for Le Pen's supporters: "I have heard your anger." He said he wanted to be president of "all French" people.

Le Pen quickly conceded defeat and wished Macron "the very best."

But as Le Pen expressed gratitude to her voters, she also defiantly called on them to continue to stand up against the French establishment. She said her National Front — with its anti-immigrant, anti-European Union stance — was now the primary opposition party in France.

"I call on all patriots to take part in the decisive political battles that are beginning today," she said. "Long live the Republic. Long live France."

The vote means France will remain one of the driving forces of the European Union.

The pro-EU, world-friendly Macron, 39, seeks closer ties and a deepening of relations across the European bloc. He encouraged French people not to be afraid of the expanding globalized economy and to look outwards.

Le Pen had threatened to close France's borders, dump the euro currency and organize a Brexit-style referendum to pull France out of the EU. Her inward-looking program called for an end to immigration and for favoring French nationals for housing, healthcare, education and social benefits. Her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, founded the far-right National Front in the 1970s.

In a speech broadcast to supporters gathered outside the Louvre Museum, Macron said he understood and respected the divisions in the country that had driven people to extremes.

"I understand the anger that many of you have expressed," he said. "It is my responsibility to hear you. I will fight with all my strength against the divisions that undermine us."

After he spoke, the jubilant crowd sang the French national anthem, the Marseillaise. Waving a flag, Vince Andre, 29, a student, said he was delighted with the result.

"Macron is young, and hopefully he will do something for the young in this country. We're fed up with the same old politicians, the same old promises."

Ben Lounis, 39, a health service executive, said he was born in North Africa but has lived in France for 15 years. He was close to tears as he spoke of his hopes for the new president.

"My children are the product of multiculturalism, and I want to live in a France that is multicultural," he said.

Over at Le Pen's reception, the atmosphere was more subdued, but not what might be expected following her electoral thrashing. There was more a sense of determination than resignation.

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Inside a restaurant tucked inside a wooded park, Le Pen delivered her concession speech to a few hundred supporters and the limited number of journalists who were granted access. She mixed through the adoring crowd, hugging and kissing well-wishers, and later danced the night away to disco music.

Although disappointed, her supporters expressed pride that Le Pen had come so far against a system they consider to be stacked against her.

"We ran against the country's political system," said Jean Messiha, an economist at Paris' Science Po university and a top campaign advisor. "And now the National Front is the primary opposition party in the country."

Anne Lavernier D'Havernel walked out of the event carrying a blue flower and wearing a smile. Saying the party had "lost the battle, but not the war," she said the press and political establishment had misrepresented people like herself, who had hosted refugees at her home and respected all races and countries.

President Trump tweeted his congratulations to Macron on the "big win" and said he looked forward to working with the president-elect.

Macron's victory came despite turnout that was low by French standards, which was expected to benefit Le Pen, and a last-minute dump of hacked Macron campaign documents. It was not clear who was responsible for the hacking, but Le Pen supporters were reported to have quickly spread the documents, none of which was described as especially damaging.

Figures released at midday showed turnout at 28.23%, exactly the same as the first round of voting two weeks ago and down from 30.66% in the last presidential second round vote in 2012.

Some polling stations in Paris were largely deserted through the early hours of voting. In part, this seemed to be because the second round of voting fell over a holiday weekend, and many voters were out of town.

Julien Landel, the first assistant mayor of the 4th Arrondissement, and the director of a voting station near Paris City Hall, said requests for "procuration," which allows a voter to designate another person to cast a ballot in their name, were up 40% compared with the first round two weeks ago.

During the first round, he said, "People were more mobilized to come out and support their candidate. Now more people are feeling disappointed and that there is not a choice for them."

Speaking about the National Front, Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem had reminded voters in an interview with Liberation newspaper that "not voting against the FN, even with the best intentions in the world, means not voting against the FN."

Anais Hegron, who works in the fashion industry, was feeling slightly optimistic after voting for Macron, whom she also backed in the first round. Still, Hegron in general is a supporter of the Socialist Party, under which Macron served as economics minister for several years before quitting to launch his own independent political movement last year.

Hegron said her first vote for Macron was a strategic one, as it became clear the Socialist Party candidate, Benoit Hamon, had no chance to survive the first round. She said she hoped Macron would win, but also that the Socialist Party could regroup and mount a credible challenge in upcoming legislative elections.

For now, however, she felt the most critical issue was blocking Le Pen's path to power.

"Never Le Pen," she said. "Never."

A child holds his mother's voting card on Sunday in Anthony, outside Paris.
A child holds his mother's voting card on Sunday in Anthony, outside Paris. (Burhan Ozbilici / Associated Press)

Macron, a former investment banker with Rothschild's, is economically liberal, socially progressive, pro-Europe and internationally minded.

His rise in French politics has been startling. When President Francois Hollande named him finance minister in August 2014, French media headlined articles with a question: "Who is Emmanuel Macron?"

Macron, who ran as an independent, led a field of 11 candidates with 23.8% in the first round of voting April 23. He was followed by Le Pen with 21.6%.

On Friday the last opinion poll by Ipsos showed Macron winning 63% of votes and Le Pen 37%. But that was before the hacked documents were released, making an already bitter campaign even more acrimonious.

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The documents were leaked just before a Friday midnight deadline that requires candidates to stop campaigning. Macron's campaign denounced the leak as a "real attempt to disrupt the French presidential election."

During the so-called election pause, candidates were banned from making any statement or comment until voting closed at 8 p.m. Sunday. That left Macron unable to respond Saturday.

But late Friday, just before the pause took effect, Macron's En Marche! (Onward!) movement released a statement saying fake papers had been mixed in with real emails, financial records and other campaign documents to "spread doubt and disinformation."

The French newspaper Le Monde said the leaked documents were spread quickly by Le Pen supporters. National Front Vice President Florian Philippot, a close advisor to Le Pen, wrote on Facebook: "With MacronLeaks are we learning something investigative journalists have deliberately hushed up?"

Security, meanwhile, was a prime concern of authorities, given France's recent history with terrorism. Thousands of police officers and security personnel were deployed across the country.

There was a brief flurry of police activity early in the day when a police bomb-sniffing dog raised an alarm about a bag near the media tent at the Louvre, where Macron's camp was setting up for the evening. People were temporarily evacuated, including 300 journalists. The Paris police later tweeted that it was part of routine checks being "conducted as a precaution."

Willsher and O'Brien are special correspondents.

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UPDATES:

8:20 p.m.: This article was updated with reaction from Le Pen's camp.

2 p.m.: This article was updated with reaction from President Trump.

12:30 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from Macron, supporters.

11:50 a.m.: This article has been updated with Le Pen concession, other details.

11:05 a.m.: Updates with Macron winning.

8:55 a.m.: This article has been updated with background about turnout, details about voting in Paris.

This article was originally posted at 3:15 a.m.

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