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French election exit estimates: Macron defeats Le Pen

PARIS – Marine Le Pen said she has called to congratulate French presidential rival Emmanuel Macron after exit estimates projected a heavy defeat for the far-right candidate.

Initial estimates from BFMTV-Elabe suggest Macron is expected to take 65.9 percent of the vote while Le Pen is expected to gain 34.1 percent.

“The French have chosen a new president,” Le Pen told supporters. “I have called Mr. Macron to congratulate him on his election, and I wished him success in this very senior post he is going to occupy and also the great challenges in front of him.”

French president Francois Hollande said he had called Macron to “warmly” congratulate him on his victory.

“His large victory confirms that a very large majority of our citizens wanted to assemble around the values of the Republic and mark their attachment to the European Union as well as to the openness of France in the world,” Hollande said in a statement.

Security was tight across France as voters cast their ballots on Sunday with the last polling stations closing at 8 p.m. local time (2 p.m. ET).

Macron cast his ballot in Le Touquet, northern France, while Le Pen voted in Henin-Beaumont.

In the first round two weeks ago, voters rejected representatives of all the traditional mainstream political parties in France. Macron and Le Pen topped an 11-strong field, taking 24 percent and 21 percent of the vote respectively.

Eleventh hour hack

The two-round election, which has played out like something of a soap opera, was hit with another scandal at the eleventh hour, when Macron’s campaign announced it had been the target of a “massive and coordinated” hacking operation.

Around 14.5 gigabytes of emails, personal and business documents were posted to the text-sharing site Pastebin just hours before the campaign period came to a close Friday night.

Macron’s party said the hackers had mixed fake documents with authentic ones “to create confusion and misinformation.” It is not clear who was behind the attack.

With the presidential election almost wrapped, attention will soon turn to the parliamentary contest.

Macron, whose party En Marche! is less than a year old, is starting from scratch. If he does not persuade enough voters to back his candidates, he will have to strike deals with other parties in order to push through his legislative agenda.