Centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen are set to face each other in a May 7 run-off for the French presidency after coming first and second in Sunday's first round of voting, early projections indicated.

The final figures released by the Interior Ministry in France had Macron earning 23.75 per cent of the vote and Le Pen at 21.53 per cent, with conservative François Fillon at 19.91 per cent and far-leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon capturing 19.64 per cent.

CBC's Nahlah Ayed was at a Le Pen rally as the results came in and said one of the first things the National Front leader would like to do as president is hold a referendum on getting France out of the EU. 

"We have heard from the Le Pen side saying this is a vote about globalization," Ayed said from France. "And others are saying that it's going to be about belonging to the European Union."

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Supporters of Marine Le Pen, the French National Front political party leader and candidate for French 2017 presidential election, hold flags as they wait for her arrival in Henin-Beaumont before results in the first round of 2017 French presidential election, France. (Pascal Rossignol/Reuters)

Le Pen's spot in the run-off is seen as a victory for the rising wave of populism reflected by the votes for U.S. President Donald Trump and Brexit — the British departure from the EU.

Trump weighed in on the campaign on Friday, expressing support for Le Pen, saying she is "strongest on borders, and she's the strongest on what's been going on in France."

And her run-off spot sets up a race similar to the contest in the U.S., with a populist outsider vying against a centrist, albeit of an unusual political stamp, which may mean some surprises in the election process.

Though Macron, 39, is a comparative political novice who has never held elected office, opinion polls in the run-up to the ballot have consistently seen him easily winning the final clash against Le Pen.

Nationalists a 'threat,' Macron says

Macron supporters at his election day headquarters in Paris went wild at the polling agency projections, cheering, singing La Marseillaise anthem, waving French tricolour flags and European flags and shouting "Macron, president!"

Macron called on all "patriots" to rally behind him against the threat of what he called "nationalists."

"I want to be the president of patriots against the threat of nationalists," the centrist told a cheering crowd of supporters.

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Supporters of French presidential election candidate Emmanuel Macron for the En Marche! movement celebrate after the results of the first round of the presidential election at the Parc des Expositions in Paris. (Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty Images)

Le Pen supporters were equally enthusiastic.

With a broad smile, Le Pen stood before an adoring crowd, said her National Front party will represent "the great alternative" to the French people.

"We will win!" Le Pen supporters chanted in her election day headquarters in the northern French town of Henin-Beaumont. They burst into a rendition of the French national anthem, and waved French flags and blue flags with "Marine President" inscribed on them.

Protests erupt

Protesters angry that Le Pen is advancing to the French presidential run-off scuffled with police in Paris.

Crowds of young people, some from anarchist and "anti-fascist" groups gathered on the Place de la Bastille in eastern Paris as results were coming in from Sunday's first-round vote.

Police fired tear gas to disperse an increasingly rowdy crowd. Riot police surrounded the area. 

Protesters have greeted several of Le Pen's campaign events, angry at her anti-immigration policies and her party, which she has sought to detoxify after a past tainted by racism and anti-Semitism.

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Police officers spray gas on demonstrators, who are angry that far-right leader Marine Le Pen is advancing to the French presidential runoff, during a protest in Paris. (Kamil Zihnioglu/Associated Press)

French police detained three people in the election night protests, as demonstrators burned cars, danced around bonfires and dodged riot police.

A Paris police official says that no injuries have been reported in scuffles between protesters and police at the Place de la Bastille.

Protesters waved red flags and sang "No Marine and No Macron!" in anger at the results of Sunday's first-round presidential election.

Later, around 300 people gathered at a peaceful protest at nearby Place de la République, waving red flags and dancing around the flames of a bonfire.

Macron scores endorsements

Defeated Socialist candidate Benoît Hamon urged voters to rally behind Macron in the second round, as did senior conservative lawmaker François Baroin, from the camp of defeated right-wing candidate Fillon.

Fillon, who had consistently been polling third in surveys leading up to the election, said he would vote for Macron on May 7 because Le Pen's program "would bankrupt France" and throw the EU into chaos. He also cited the history of "violence and intolerance" of Le Pen's far-right National Front party.

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François Fillon, left, Emmanuel Macron, Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Marine Le Pen were in a tight race in the first round of the French presidential election. (Patrick Kovarik/Pool/Reuters)

In a brief televised message less than 30 minutes after the last polling stations closed, Socialist Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve also urged voters to back Macron "to beat the National Front and block its funereal project of regression for France and of division of the French."

Hamon, who was far behind in Sunday's results, quickly conceded defeat. Declaring "the left is not dead!" he urged supporters to back Macron.

French far-left candidate Mélenchon refused to concede defeat in the first-round presidential vote.

In a defiant speech to supporters, he says that he will continue to await results, though with 50 per cent of the vote counted, he was clearly in fourth place.

Heightened security after police attack

Le Pen voted in Hénin-Beaumont, a former mining town of 26,000 that has become a National Front stronghold.

Le Pen has long cast her anti-EU party as the anti-establishment option and champion to those left behind by de-industrialization and globalization.

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Soldiers were deployed across France to ensure voting went safely. Inside this polling station in central Paris, a private security employee watches as people cast ballots. (Nahlah Ayed/CBC)

Whatever the outcome on May 7, it will mean a redrawing of France's political landscape, which has been dominated for 60 years by mainstream groupings from the centre-left and centre-right, both of whose candidates faded.

Ballots for the presidential election were cast under heightened security. Over 60,000 polling stations opened for voters who chose between 11 candidates in the most unpredictable election in decades.

Security was tight after a deadly attack on the Champs Elysée on Thursday in which a police officer and a gunman were slain. The government has mobilized more than 50,000 police and gendarmes to protect polling stations, with an additional 7,000 soldiers on patrol.

It's the first time in living memory a presidential election is taking place during a state of emergency, which was put in place after the Paris attacks of November 2015.

With files from CBC News and Associated Press