Marine Le Pen temporarily steps down as National Front leader

Francois Hollande has endorsed centrist Emmanuel Macron after yesterday's first-round vote

Marine Le Pen temporarily steps down as National Front leader

Picture by: Marechal Aurore/ABACA/ABACA/PA Images

French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen has announced she will temporarily step down as the leader of the National Front party to focus on her presidential bid.

Ms Le Pen was one of two candidates to make it through the first round vote yesterday, and will face off against centrist Emmanuel Macron in the second round in two weeks.

In comments on French television translated by BBC, Ms Le Pen announced she will now be "above partisan considerations".

The National Front was founded by Ms Le Pen's now estranged father Jean-Marie.

Mr Le Pen has faced several charges of racism and antisemitism in the past. In recent years his daughter has sought to rehabilitate the party's image, and Jean-Marie was expelled from the party in 2015.

Earlier, French President Francois Hollande has warned of "the risk for our country's future" if Ms Le Pen wins the presidential election.

Speaking to voters from the Elysee Palace, the Socialist leader said France is in danger of "becoming isolated and breaking away from the EU" if Ms Le Pen sweeps to power.

He has endorsed Mr Macron, who served as his economy minister from 2014 to 2016, as his successor.

Mr Hollande is the most unpopular president in France's history and did not seek re-election for himself.

His party's candidate, Benoit Hamon, was knocked out in the first round of the presidential election on Sunday after receiving just 6% of the vote.

During his address, Mr Hollande claimed the purchasing power of the French people would be directly hit if Ms Le Pen wins the run-off vote on 7 May - with "unprecedented price increases" in stores and thousands of jobs being lost.

He added: "Faced with the terrorism threat - that demands solidarity and the cohesion of our country - the far-right would deeply divide France and would stigmatise a part of our citizens due to their origins or their religion.

"It would threaten our freedom and the principles that founded the Republic."

War of words

Mr Macron - who ran under the independent En Marche! (On The Move) banner - won 23.75% of votes in the first round, while Ms Le Pen won 21.53%.

Both candidates have now returned to the campaign trail, with less than two weeks to go before French voters return to the ballot boxes.

Ms Le Pen launched the first broadside of the run-off campaign, claiming her opponent is "weak" in the face of Islamist terrorism during a walkabout in Rouvroy.

She added: "He is a hysterical, radical 'Europeanist'. He is for total open borders. He says there is no such thing as French culture.

"There is not one domain that shows one ounce of patriotism."

Meanwhile, Mr Macron's party spokesman has challenged Ms Le Pen on her claims she is the anti-establishment candidate who is taking on the country's elites.

Benjamin Griveaux said: "She's been in the political system for 30 years. She inherited her father's party and we will undoubtedly have Le Pens running for the next 20 years.

"So she is in a truly bad position to be talking about the elites and the people."

Mr Macron and Ms Le Pen will take part in a televised debate on 3 May - four days before the run-off vote, according to the AFP news agency.