Polling agency projections for the overall race showed Macron in the lead with between 23 and 24 percent support, followed by Le Pen with between 21 and 23 percent.
With Le Pen wanting France to leave the European Union and Macron wanting even closer cooperation between the bloc's 28 nations, Sunday's outcome meant the May 7 runoff will have undertones of a referendum on France's European Union membership.
Elsewhere in Europe, liberal globalists cheered Macron's strong showing. "Wishing him all the best for the next two weeks". European Commission President Jean-Claus Juncker congratulated him as well.
"They (the people) chose to put me to the first place in the first round of this vote, and I appreciate the honor and great responsibility that was bestowed on me", Macron continued.
"A page of France's political history has been turned", an elated Macron declared in Paris.
He is on course to face eurosceptic, anti-immigration Le Pen in the May 7 vote seen as vital for the future of the ailing European Union. The country has more than 45 million of registered voters in total. For the first time since the end of World War II, an establishment right or left-wing party will not control the presidency.
The first leg of the presidential election administered a stunning defeat for the two main right and left parties that have dominated France for decades, underlining the dissatisfaction with conventional politics that has been a feature of the French campaign.
Olivier Duhamel, a political scientist at Sciences Po Paris, one of France's top universities, said the fact that someone with so little experience came out on top today was stunning. "That proves that France in a way, this evening, is less of a monarchy and more a democracy". US stock futures also rose sharply.
Macron may face a hard task in winning sufficient backers in the French parliamentary elections in June, necessitating some kind of delicate political compromise with established centrist and left-wing parties.
"We should not underestimate the capacity of resistance of other groups within societies, which are supporting more moderate parties", said Alain Dieckhoff, head of the Center for International Research at Sciences Po. Every presidential election since 1965 has gone to a second round.
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