Marine Le Pen is expected to make it through to the second round run-off of the French presidential election, first results suggest.
With 40 million votes counted from France's 47 million strong electorate, the figures put the leader of the far-right Front National (FN) on 22.33 per cent, where she is expected to face centrist Emmanuel Macron who is on 23.54 per cent.
The figures do not include results from France's major cities, where Ms Le Pen's level of support tends to be low relative to smaller towns and villages where counts were complete.
Early projections from opinion pollsters on the results had shown Mr Macron ahead of Le Pen - with the independent candidate expected to scoop between 23 and 24 per cent of the total vote, with Ms Le Pen getting between 21 and 23 per cent of the vote.
The vote is expected to mark the end of a political era since the two major parties - the Socialist party and the centre-right Les Republicains - which have traditionally been the pillars of France's political arena, are expected to be eliminated in the first round of the election.
Conservative Francois Fillon is on 19.63 per cent with 20 million votes counted and far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon is on 18.09 per cent. projections suggest Mr Melenchon and Mr Fillon will both claim around 19.5 per cent of the votes, with Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon set to pick-up an historically-low 6.2 per cent.
According to the latest polling about the second round, Mr Macron is forecast to beat Ms Le Pen by 62 per cent to 38 per cent, with many political figures quick to join the 'anyone but Le Pen camp'. Conceding defeat, Mr Fillon asked his supporters to back Mr Macron in the second round of voting on 7 May, urging them to keep Ms Le Pen away from the presidency.
"Despite all my efforts, my determination, I have not succeeded in convincing my fellow countrymen and women. The obstacles in my path were too numerous and too cruel. This defeat is mine, I accept the responsibility, it is mine and mine alone to bear," Mr Fillon told his supporters..
"Extremism can can only bring unhappiness and division to France. There is no other choice than to vote against the far right. I will vote for Emmanuel Macron. I consider it my duty to tell you this frankly. It is up to you to reflect on what is best for your country, and for your children," he added.
As for Mr Melenchon, he said he would not endorse any candidate for the second round.
Mr Macron said the vote showed that the election meant "turning a page in French political history" and that he wanted to gather "the largest possible support" before the 7 May runoff.
The frontrunner called for hope in Europe in stark contrast to Ms Le Pen, who campaigned to leave the European Union (EU).
He said the EU would have to be reformed and revived with a project "which protects" and offers a place to every French citizen.