What happened today in France's presidential race

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French presidential election candidate for the far-left coalition La France insoumise Jean-Luc Melenchon visits the library of the Lille 1 University in Villeneuve-d'Ascq, northern France, on April 11, 2017, as part of a campaign visit

Eleven days before the first round of France's presidential election, Communist-backed radical Jean-Luc Melenchon fended off criticism of his programme and 40 economists gave centrist Emmanuel Macron the nod.

Here's what happened in the campaign on Wednesday:

- Economists for Macron -

"We don't agree with all of his proposals but we consider that Emmanuel Macron's programme offers the soundest basis for the new economic growth that our country needs," 40 economists wrote in an open letter in Le Monde daily, endorsing the centrist.

The group praised Macron's plan to give bosses and staff more freedom to negotiate working hours, improve professional training and work with other EU members on a "New Deal" for the bloc.

Contrasting it with Marine Le Pen's protectionist platform, they warned the far-right leader "would cause historic regression for the French, particularly the poorest".

- 'A plague of frogs' -

Communist-backed radical Jean-Luc Melenchon, who has been gaining on frontrunners Le Pen and Macron after strong performances in two TV debates, hit back at critics of his plans for eye-popping tax and spending hikes.

"Once again my election victory is being announced like the onset of a nuclear winter, a plague of frogs, the Red Army's tanks and the landing of the Venezuelans," the 65-year-old leader of La France Insoumise (Unbowed France) wrote on his blog.

Melenchon wants to impose a 100-percent tax rate on top earners, increase public spending by 173 billion euros over five years and renegotiate key EU treaties.

In a rare foray into the campaign outgoing President Francois Hollande warned voters against being lured by Melenchon's showmanship.

"The caste which is screaming blue murder about me has forgotten it is supposed to be combatting Mrs Le Pen," Melenchon said.

- Sweating it out -

Conservative candidate Francois Fillon revealed his trick for fighting stress.

"Running and biking allows you to bring down your aggression levels a bit," said Fillon, who has come out swinging against a string of allegations of misusing public funds and being in the pocket of the rich.

On Monday, the 63-year-old ex-premier lashed out at a journalist who pressed him about new revelations involving his wife's suspected fake job as a parliamentary aide. "Go to hell," Fillon told the reporter.