PARIS, April 24 (Xinhua) -- Centrist candidate and former minister of economy Emmanuel Macron and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen on Sunday came out on top in the first round of the French presidential election, according to projections by polling agencies and official partial results.

An updated estimation by research firm Elabe for local broadcaster BFMTV indicates that Macron leads with 24 percent of votes, and Le Pen 21.8 percent.

A total of 11 candidates participated in this year's race towards French presidency, and the two leading candidates are set to face off in the runoff on May 7.

At a gathering after the vote, Le Pen hailed the results as "historic," and expressed "profound gratitude" to her supporters.

She called on voters to join her to create "national unity," promising to bring "great alternative" to the country.

Macron later also greeted a cheerful crowd of supporters, saying that "in one year, we have changed the face of French political life."

The centrist candidate, holding a prominent pro-European Union (EU) position throughout his campaign, urged unity in France and Europe, and pledged to revive the European project.

"I will be a president who transforms, protects and helps those have little," he said, promising to embrace "all the French people."

Outgoing French President Francois Hollande congratulated Macron on the phone for advancing into the second round, according to French media reports.

European Commission chief spokesperson Margaritis Schinas said on social media that Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the commission, also congratulated Macron on the results and "wished him good luck for the future."

Right-wing conservative candidate and former prime minister Francois Fillon conceded defeat Sunday night, and vowed to vote for Macron in the runoff on May 7.

"The defeat is mine. Do not scatter, stay united," Fillon told his supporters in a gathering after the vote.

Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon, in the fifth place, also announced that he would endorse Macron for the runoff vote.

According to the updated estimation, Fillon ends up in the third place with 19.9 percent of votes, while far-leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon ranks fourth with 19.3 percent.

"Once the official results are known, we will respect it," said Melenchen, who has not yet conceded defeat.