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WASHINGTON — Former President Barack Obama has spoken by telephone with France’s Emmanuel Macron and is hinting at support for the upstart, middle-way presidential candidate.

Obama spokesman Kevin Lewis says the former U.S. leader spoke to Macron Thursday.

Lewis says Obama heard from Macron about his campaign and “the important upcoming election.” Lewis says Obama is strongly committed to France being “a leader on behalf of liberal values in Europe and around the world.”

Lewis says, however, that Obama isn’t offering Macron or another candidate in the race a “formal endorsement.”

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Macron faces off against anti-establishment populists and other candidates in a first-round vote Sunday. The outcome is being closely watched for signs that Europe is moving toward nationalist candidates who advocate the European Union’s dissolution.