France votes: Low turnout, but Macron wins comfortably

French President-elect Emmanuel Macron says a new era in French history is beginning, as the 39-year old pro-EU centrist becomes the country's youngest head of state since Napoleon.

"A new page in our long history has turned tonight," Macron said in a statement to Reuters on Sunday. "I want it to be that of rediscovery of hope and trust."

Mr Macron was elected president of France with a business-friendly vision of European integration, defeating Marine Le Pen, a far-right nationalist who threatened to take France out of the European Union, early projections showed.

The centrist's emphatic victory, which also smashed the dominance of France's mainstream parties, will bring huge relief to European allies who had feared another populist upheaval to follow Britain's vote to quit the EU and Donald Trump's election as US president.

Five projections, issued within minutes of polling stations closing, showed Mr Macron beating Le Pen by around 65 percent to 35 - a gap wider than the 20 or so percentage points that pre-election surveys had pointed to.

Even so, it was a record performance for the National Front, a party whose anti-immigrant policies until recently made it a pariah in French politics, and underlined the scale of the divisions that Mr Macron must now try to heal.

Mr Macron's immediate challenge will be to secure a majority in next month's parliamentary election for En Marche! (Onwards!), his political movement that is barely a year old, in order to implement his program.

The 39-year-old former investment banker, who served for two years as economy minister but has never previously held elected office.

Despite having served briefly as economy minister in President Francois Hollande's deeply unpopular Socialist government, Mr Macron managed to portray himself as the man to recast a political landscape moulded by the left-right divisions of the last century.

Socialist Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuze said France had chosen to retain its place at the heart of Europe.

Mr Hollande said in a statement he had called Mr Macron to congratulate him.

"His big victory confirms that a very large majority of our fellow citizens wanted to unite around the values of the Republic and show their attachment to the European Union," the statement said.

Mr Hollande's former Prime Minister Manuel Valls called separately for a broad presidential majority to be built around Mr Macron in legislative elections next month.

Shortly after the first projections were published, Ms Le Pen, 48, said she had congratulated Mr Macron. But she defiantly claimed the mantle of France's main opposition in calling on "all patriots to join us" in constituting a "new political force".

"We have seen a major decomposition of French political life of the old traditional mainstream parties, and what we see now is a real new configuration which is emerging - a rift between the patriots and the neo-liberals," Ms Le Pen said.

"This is what we're going to fight… I will head that to make sure all people who want prosperity and security, the identity of France."

Paris' main mosque said the election of Mr Macron over Ms Le Pen was a sign of reconciliation between French religions.

"It is a clear sign of hope to French Muslims that they can live in harmony and respect of French values", La Grande Mosquee de Paris said in a statement.

Reuters / Newshub.