What happened today in France's presidential election

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Demonstrators, some making noise with saucepans, have staged protests against conservative candidate Francois Fillon

As the French presidential election enters the final straight some demonstrators are fined for a saucepan protest outside a rally by the conservative Francois Fillon, and artists urge voters to block far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

Here is a snapshot of what happened in the race on Monday:

- Fillon metal racket -

"We thought it was an April Fool's joke," Jerome Baude told AFP, describing his surprise at receiving a 68-euro ($64) fine on Saturday for protesting outside a rally by the Republicans party nominee Fillon.

Baude was among 15 people rapped for "making noise harming the peace or public health" for banging on pots and pans outside a hall where Fillon gave a speech in the northern city of Calais last month.

"We are stunned," Baude, a trade unionist said. "It's a way of stopping people, who usually never protest, from getting off the couch."

The French word for pots -- casseroles -- is also used as a slang term for the skeletons in a politician's closet.

Since January, when Fillon was revealed to have paid his wife and two of his children for suspected fake jobs as parliamentary assistants, his rallies have drawn sporadic saucepan protests.

- Hamon's income on tour -

Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon dispatched three teams of campaigners to crisscross France promoting his controversial proposals for a universal basic income.

The caravans will tour 100 towns over the next three weeks to try to sell voters on the plan to pay all the poor and lowly-paid a living wage -- a scheme that would eventually be extended to all citizens.

The campaigners will use a device to simulate how much each voter stands to gain.

"Many people think this measure is only meant for those who do not have work," Hamon said of the plan, which he says would cost 35 billion euros ($37 billion) a year but economists say could cost several times that.

- Artists against Le Pen -

A group of around 100 actors, musicians and other cultural figures published an open letter in the leftist Liberation daily calling on voters to bar a possible victory by Le Pen.

The signatories of the letter, who include actress Lea Seydoux and Israeli filmmaker Amos Gitai, said France's vibrant arts scene was based on the freedom "to think and create, to invent and assert and to interpret and criticise the world as we see it".

"A president Marine Le Pen would end that," they declared.

Polls currently show Le Pen and centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron running neck-and-neck in the first round of the election on April 23, with Macron handily beating Le Pen in the May 7 runoff.

- No 'normal president' -

Macron told Le Monde newspaper that unlike his former mentor President Francois Hollande, he would not strive to be a "normal president".

Fillon has dubbed Hollande's former economy minister "Emmanuel Hollande", claiming the two are cut from the same Socialist cloth.

"I don't claim (to want) to be a normal president. I will be a president who leads," Macron said in an attempt to distance himself from Hollande.

Hollande won the election in 2012 as a "normal" successor to the irascible Nicolas Sarkozy, but his regular-guy image came to be equated with weakness, making him very unpopular.

Macron said his methods would be "radically different" from those of Hollande, promising quick reforms and "clarity."