French presidential race heats up: A look at the candidates

PARIS (AP) " France's presidential campaign is heating up, as candidates from the anti-immigrant far right to the Trotskyist far left join the race for election five months away.

Now that Prime Minister Manuel Valls has announced his candidacy, here's a look at top contenders, and what's at stake for this nuclear-armed, leading world economy in the April-May election:

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FRANCOIS FILLON

The longtime No. 2 of former president Nicolas Sarkozy, this amateur racecar driver is now at the wheel of the conservative presidential campaign " representing his Republicans party and its allies from the center-right.

Fillon, 62, presents his platform as "radical:" He wants to cut taxes on business and slash public spending to boost France's stagnant economy and proposes strong measures to reduce immigration "to a minimum."

He also wants loosen the country's stringent labor rules in the hope to encourage hiring, and has a strong focus on traditional family values.

He pledged to fight energetically against the Socialist candidate and the far-right.

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MARINE LE PEN

Le Pen, 48, is the candidate of her far-right National Front party. Bolstered by Donald Trump's victory, the election may turn out to be a referendum on her ideas.

She's campaigning on an anti-immigration, anti-Islam, nationalist platform and hopes anti-establishment sentiment can propel her to the presidency.

That would have repercussions across Europe and for post-war unity. Le Pen wants to lead France out of the European Union and its visa-free zone.

Political analysts say she may reach the second round of the presidential election, by coming in the top two in the first round.

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MANUEL VALLS

France's prime minister since 2014, Valls has jumped into the presidential race only four days after unpopular president Francois Hollande announced he would not run for re-election.

Valls, 54, leaves his job as premier to focus on his candidacy in the Socialist primary next month, in which he will be favorite but will face strong competition.

A leading yet divisive figure of the Socialist party, Valls is known for his outspoken, authoritarian style and his tough views on immigration and security.

A group of Socialist rebels have criticized his pro-business strategy and called for more left-leaning policies. Among them, former Economy minister Arnaud Montebourg and Education minister Benoit Hamon have announced they will compete against him in the Socialist primary.

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EMMANUEL MACRON

A former economy minister of Francois Hollande, this outspoken and telegenic former investment banker is advocating for pro-free market and a progressive approach to social issues.

He notably encouraged startups and passed a law loosening labor rules.

The 38-year-old Macron, who has never held elected office, this year started a political movement called "En Marche!" (In Motion) that he presents as neither right- nor left-wing.

His views have prompted harsh criticism from many members of the Socialist Party who feel that he has betrayed left-wing ideals.

Macron has decided not to take part in the Socialist primary.

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THE REST

Far-left figure Jean-Luc Melenchon, Greens nominee Yannick Jadot and other independent candidates and smaller parties' leaders are running in the election " as allowed by French law.

Anyone can run if they can collect 500 signatures from elected office-holders to support the candidacy.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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