The Latest: First candidates cast vote in French election

The Latest on the first round of France's presidential election (all times local):

9:30 a.m.

Candidates in France's presidential election have started to cast their votes.

Hardline right-winger Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, who rails against Europe, was the first of the 11 presidential candidates to vote Sunday morning in his constituency in the leafy Paris suburbs.

Far-left candidate Natalie Arthaud cast her ballot soon after in the Paris suburb of Pantin.

In Paris, voters were lining up early at polling stations.

The vote "is really important, mainly because we really need a change in this country with all the difficulties we are facing and terrorism," said Paris resident Alain Richaud.

"It's definitely risky, but I have faith in the result even if an extreme candidate qualifies for the second round," said Beatrice Schopflin.

___

8 a.m.

French voters have begun casting ballots for the presidential election in a tense first-round poll that's seen as a test for the spread of populism around the world.

Over 60,000 polling stations opened Sunday at 0600 GMT for some 47 million eligible voters, who will choose between 11 candidates. It's the most unpredictable election in generations.

Polls suggest far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron, an independent centrist and former economy minister, were in the lead. But conservative Francois Fillon, a former prime minister, appeared to be closing the gap, as was far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon.

France's 10 percent unemployment, its lackluster economy and security issues topped voters' concerns.

Early voting began Saturday in France's overseas territories.