Marine Le Pen's proposal to pull France out of the euro and her hardline stance on Islam came under attack from her fellow presidential hopefuls on Monday, in a combative TV debate a month before the country goes to the polls.
France's election is shaping up as the most unpredictable in decades, with far-right National Front (FN) leader Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron tied in polls for the April 23 first round, while the mainstream left and right languish in third and fourth place.
With polls showing Macron, 39, would easily beat the anti-immigration Le Pen, 48, in a decisive run-off vote on May 7, he had been expected to take the most heat in Monday's TV battle.
But it was Le Pen who was repeatedly on the defensive as Macron, conservative nominee Francois Fillon, the Socialist Party's Benoit Hamon and fifth-placed leftist radical Jean-Luc Melenchon all tore into her programme.
Former frontrunner Fillon, 63, who has been ensnared in a raft of scandals, said Le Pen's proposal to ditch the euro and bring back the French franc would cause "economic and social chaos."
"You don't leave the euro and the protection afforded by the European Central Bank...for an adventure... that would ruin borrowers and savers alike," said Fillon, who presented himself as the most experienced pair of hands.
Le Pen, who has been buoyed by Donald Trump's election in the US and Britain's decision to leave the EU, accused Fillon of scaremongering. "That's called Project Fear, Mr Fillon. It was used before Brexit," said Le Pen, who has pledged a similar referendum on France's EU membership.
Former economy minister Macron, the most europhile of the candidates, noted that "all those who said Brexit will be wonderful...ran away and hid." (AFP)