At meat market, the far-right Le Pen backs "eating French"

France's presidential race now pits two candidates who refuse to identify as “left” or “right”

Analysts said Le Pen might find more support amid right-wing voters anxious by security issues and Europe's open borders, who backed either conservative Francois Fillon or nationalist Nicolas Dupont-Aignan in the first round and might balk at backing Macron, a moderate centrist.

"Macron was there with all his showbiz friends", Philippot said.

One vendor, who did not wish to be named, accused the two candidates of trying "to be seen in the same light as people who really are hard-working".

"The challenge is to break completely with the system which has been unable to find solutions to the problems of our country for more than 30 years", Macron said on Sunday, already looking past the presidential election to crucial parliamentary elections in June.

Socialist President Francois Hollande announced he would not to run for reelection after his approval ratings sank to 4%, something analysts widely attribute to a string of terrorist attacks in France and a stagnation of economic growth during his tenure.Hollande is the first incumbent president not to seek reelection in the history of the modern French republic.

Marine Le Pen had a mixed welcome at a market near Paris yesterday, with some traders jostling for a picture with France's far-right presidential candidate but others booing her hard line on immigration.

Another protest, dubbed "Neither Le Pen Nor Macron", is due to take place on the Place de la République on Thursday. Macron's En Marche! has no representation in parliament, yet is viewed as a more centrist political party compared to Ms. Le Pen's nationalistic National Front. "It's not a done deal".

Macron defended the bistrot gathering in a France 2 television interview on Tuesday evening.

At the crack of dawn on Tuesday she was at the sprawling Rungis food market outside Paris, taking aim at what she said was Macron's desire for "total deregulation, total opening up, total free trade".

Macron has a commanding poll lead, with some surveys putting him about 25 points ahead of Le Pen. It is largely symbolic, as she will only temporarily be replaced by the party's vice president, Jean-François Jalkh, for two weeks, allowing her to concentrate exclusively on the presidential campaign.

Jean-Marie Le Pen, who repeatedly has been convicted of crimes based on anti-Semitism and racism, founded the National Front party that his daughter took over, but a feud has divided the two.

His young electorate, attracted by his anti-elite message, euroscepticism and promises to crack down on multinational companies, could play a role, either by not voting on May 7 or joining Le Pen.

As Macron was meeting with union leaders from the Whirlpool plant in northern France, Le Pen popped up outside the factory itself, amid its workers in bright-yellow hazard vests, and declared herself the candidate of France's workers.

Security leapt to the centre of the campaign last week when a 39-year-old Frenchman gunned down a policeman on the Champs Elysees in Paris.