Europe

Le Pen on French election: Regardless of results, 'gigantic force has been born'

With polls showing her a longshot to win Sunday's election, French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen declared victory anyway, saying no matter what happens, a "gigantic political force has been born."

Speaking to The Associated Press on Friday, the right-wing candidate held out hope for "a surprise" in the runoff, although polls show her trailing by as much as 20 points behind independent centrist Emmanuel Macron.

"Maybe there is going to be a surprise that will belie opinion polls," she said.

Regardless, Le Pen said her outsider campaign, with its emphasis on ationalism and ending immigration, has had a lasting effect on the country.

"We moved everything, we have changed everything already," she said. "The old traditional parties have all been blackballed. Even if we don't reach our goal, in any event there is a gigantic political force that has been born."

As Le Pen spoke, protests broke out in Paris on the last day of the campaign before the presidential election. Environmental activists unfurled a protest banner on the Eiffel Tower about 5 a.m. Friday, emblazoned with the French motto "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity." The banner hung on the monument for about 45 minutes, protesting far-right presidential candidate Le Pen. 

Twelve people were arrested after the incident. 

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Voting starts in French overseas territories Saturday then moves to the mainland Sunday, with 50,000 security forces on guard. Polling agency projections of the outcome are expected as soon as the final voting stations close Sunday evening, followed by official results.

A crowd wearing T-shirts with Macron's campaign slogans also greeted Le Pen when she paid a visit to Reims Cathedral, the BBC reported. They held placards outside the church and chanted "Marine, give the money back!" -- referencing the accusation that Le Pen and others in her National Front party used European Union-paid parliamentary aides for party activity. 

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Students at 10 high schools also spoke out by completely or partially blocking the entrances to the buildings, the Paris school district said. Students at Lycée Buffon wrote an open letter to French voters asking them to choose "democracy" in Sunday's runoff. 

"I'm 15, 16, 17 or 18, I'm a student. Even If I'm not old enough to vote, I'm concerned," the letter said. "Dear reader, you should know that Marine Le Pen's France is not the France we love. Our France is beautiful, tolerant and cosmopolitan. So go and vote on Sunday, for this France, this democracy."

The letter, however, did not call voters to support Macron. 

Macron spent part of the last day of the campaign mingling with supporters in the small streets of the southwestern town of Rodez. He also visited a 16th century cathedral without press.

His supporters wished him "courage" and luck ahead of the runoff. Some left-wing voters told him they will choose him on Sunday, but will remain vigilant about his pro-business project they fear will weaken workers' protections.

Both candidates are looking to extend their leads, though polls suggest Macron could secure a comfortable victory.

Macron also earned an endorsement from former president Barack Obama. 

The candidates faced off in a nasty two-hour televised debate on Wednesday where they often attacked each other personally. At one point, Le Pen alluded that her centrist opponent could be holding an "offshore account in the Bahamas."

Macron responded to the slur as "fake news" and filed a complaint the next morning. 

Le Pen later admitted she had no proof the offshore account existed. French prosecutors launched an investigation into whether fake news improperly could affect voting. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.