Far-right leader Marine Le Pen went first, cheerily greeting election workers in the northern town of Henin-Beaumont, in France’s struggling former industrial heartland. She emerged from the ballot booth beaming to drop it in a transparent box. Outside, she took selfies with supporters.

Then came incumbent Emmanuel Macron, who shook dozens of hands — and was handed a small child to hold up — on his journey from his family home in the resort town of Le Touquet on the English Channel to his voting station.

Inside, he greeted yet more people, posed for photographs with his wife Brigitte, and cast his ballot with a wink for the cameras. The voting booths were shielded by curtains in the red-white-and-blue of the French flag.

About 48.8 million voters are eligible to take part in the runoff, which is being watched around Europe. Early results are expected Sunday night.

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MORE STORIES:

— Macron vs Le Pen: France votes in tense presidential runoff

— France’s presidential rivals: Key moments, private lives

— EXPLAINER: How France’s old-school voting system works

— Follow all AP stories on Russia’s war on Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:

PARIS— Turnout in France’s presidential runoff on Sunday is slightly higher than it was at the same point in the first-round vote two weeks ago.

Participation is at 26.1% at midday Sunday. Many of those expected to choose the incumbent, Emmanuel Macron, are doing so to keep out Marine Le Pen and ideas seen as too extreme and anti-democratic, such as her plan to ban the Muslim headscarf in public, or her ties to Russia.

Both candidates are trying to court the 7.7 million votes of leftist candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, who was defeated in the first round on April 10.

All recent opinion polls converge toward a win for the 44-year-old pro-European Macron — yet the margin over his 53-year-old far-right rival varies broadly. Polls also forecast a possibly record-high number of people who will either cast a blank vote or not vote at all.

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PARIS — France began voting in a presidential runoff election Sunday with repercussions for Europe’s future.

Centrist incumbent Emmanuel Macron is the front-runner, but he’s fighting a tough challenge from far-right rival Marine Le Pen.

The centrist Macron is asking voters to trust him for a second five-year term despite a presidency troubled by protests, the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. A Macron victory in this vote would make him the first French president in 20 years to win a second term.

The result of voting in France, a nuclear-armed nation with one of the world’s biggest economies, could also impact the conflict in Ukraine, as France has played a key role in diplomatic efforts and support for sanctions against Russia.

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