After strong performances in two debates, several new surveys demonstrate the Communist-backed nominees popularity surging

The French Communist-backed presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon is closing in on the frontrunners Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, according to new polls.

A rally held by Melenchon drew tens of thousands of supporters on Sunday, accentuating his surging popularity merely two weeks from such elections on 23 April and adding new drama to a rollercoaster campaign.

After strong performances in two televised debates, several surveys at the weekend depicted him clambering to third post, with 18% to 19% of voters saying they would vote for him.

Speaking in Marseille, Melenchon told voters had a choice other than the extreme-right condemning our great multi-coloured people to hate itself and fans of the free market that transforms suffering, misery and defection into gold and money.

The left-leaning news magazine LObs commented that the sudden emergence of Jean-Luc Melenchon among the four nominees with around 20% has shattered all the predictions,[ and] is sowing uncertainty among the favourites.

Analysts mention forecasting the two-stage election is even more difficult than usual, with an unusually high number of voters saying they plan to abstain or have not made up their minds.

The scandal-hit rightwinger Franois Fillon likewise held one of his biggest rallyings so far, collecting thousands of supporters at a Paris conference hall. The former “ministers ” is desperate to pick up momentum after a campaign dominated by allegations he paid his wife hundreds of euros for a fake parliamentary job.

Im not asking you to love me Im asking you to support me, because its in Frances interest, he told the crowds.

One former pastor and Fillon ally admitted on condition of anonymity: If he doesnt rise a few points[ in the polls] the coming week, its over.

Le Pen, meanwhile, sparked criticism from Jewish groups with an interview in which she denied the French state was responsible for the wartime roundup of more than 13,000 Jews at Pariss Vel dHiv cycling way, who were then sent to Nazi death camps.

I think that generally speaking if there are people responsible, its those who were in power at the time, she told LCI television. Its not France.

The CRIF umbrella grouping of Jewish organisations called the comments an insult to France, which honoured itself in 1995 by recognising its responsibility in the expulsion of Frances Jews.

Le Pen and her closest allies had made the airwaves Sunday selling their vision of a nationalist France, unburdened by the European union and the euro currency and tougher on misdemeanour and Islamists.

Macron, meanwhile, detailed what his priorities would be for his first few months in office, telling the Journal du Dimanche newspaper that one of his first measures would be to pass a law specifying new ethical standards for parliament. This would be followed by other legislation to cut the number of MPs by a third and to free up the labour market.

Asked about a slight dropped in subsistence, according to surveys, he replied: They show exactly what I feel that nothing is decided yet. We are entering a crucial phase.

In a sign that his squad are growing anxious about the impact of Melenchon, particularly among the young, advocates spread a video online set to techno music advising about the leftwingers huge tax-and-spend plan.

Melenchons radical program includes a new 100 bn ($ 106 bn) stimulus plan and a decrease in the working week to 32 hours, as well as proposals to overhaul the EU and draw France out of Nato.

Polls written at the weekend supported changing momentum after the final televised debate between the 11 nominees vying to lead France, with a survey for KANTAR Sofres-Onepoint even putting Melenchon a phase ahead of Fillon.

Le Pen and Macron are neck and neck but both just lost ground slightly and would win 23% to 24% if the voting rights were held today, the polls say.

This would mean both be eligible for the runoff scheduled for 7 May, which polls suggest Macron would win comfortably although analysts caution against firm predictions.

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