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First polling stations open in French election amid high tension and tight security

Polling stations for the first round of the French presidential elections have opened amid high tensions and tight security following the latest terrorist incident in Paris.1

The latest polls show a surge in support for both the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen2 and far-left contender Jean-Luc Melenchon3, with a total of eleven candidates battling to go through to the run-off. Nationalist Ms Le Pen and independent centrist Emmanuel Macron4 remain favourites for the final round, but this election is regarded as one of the most unpredictable in recent history because of fears over Islamist terrorism coupled with a 10 per cent unemployment rate and a faltering economy. Centre-right candidate Francois Fillon5, a former Prime Minister whose early campaigning was damaged by corruption allegations that his wife was paid but did no work as his parliamentary aide, appeared to be closing the gap, along with socialist stalwart Mr Melenchon.

With fears of possible further terrorist attacks, the French Government has mobilised more than 50,000 police and gendarmes to protect 70,000 polling stations, with an additional 7,000 soldiers on patrol. It is likely to be a close call between the top four candidates to get into the two-horse run-off on 7 May, with Fillon and Melenchon polling just two to three points behind Le Pen and Macron, meaning the decision could rest in the hands of the third of voters who have yet to make up their minds. The French go to the polls with Friday s terrorist incident fresh in their minds after a gunman carrying a note in support of Isis killed a Paris police officer Thursday before he was shot dead by security forces.

Polling stations opened in the Atlantic Ocean territories of Saint Pierre and Miquelon as well as French Guyana in South America, the Caribbean’s Guadeloupe and elsewhere . Voters abroad could also cast ballots in French embassies, with polls across France opening on Sunday. Political campaigning is banned this weekend until the polls close across France and online. Marine Le Pen pledges to expel ‘foreign extremists’

Ms Le Pen and Mr Fillon cancelled their final campaign events on Friday in the wake of the gun attack by Karim Cherufi, 39, but this did not stop Mr Macron from accusing the pair of trying to capitalise on terrorism with their hard-hitting anti-immigration messages and pledges to get tough over security.

Former investment banker and economics minister Mr Macron said that following the attack, it was vital that the French people summoned a spirit of responsibility in what is an extreme period and reach a measured response to a tragic event which has left our country in grief. He pledged that if elected, he would create a special unit that would work around the clock to tackle Isis, calling the fight against terrorism a moral challenge a challenge for civilisation. Ms Le Pen accused successive French governments of being too soft on extremism, and demanded the immediate expulsion of any foreigners with links to extremism or who are deemed to pose a risk to national security.

The Islamist, Salafist ideology has no right to be in France and should be banned . Preachers of hate should be expelled and their mosques closed, she said.

Mr Fillon said: For years I have been warning that we are confronting an Islamic totalitarianism: in other words, an ideology that is radical, organised and expansionist Whose goal is to destroy our civilisation and crush all enemies from south-east Asia right up to west Africa. Messages from both said France was at war with radical Islam, which they described as expansionist, organised and barbaric. Tensions threatened to boil over once again in Paris when a knife-wielding man caused widespread panic this afternoon at the Gare du Nord train station, although he was arrested without anyone being hurt.

Well-wishers paid their respects on Saturday at the site of the shooting which has become a shrine of flowers, candles and messages of solidarity for the slain police officer, Xavier Jugele. The attack dominated French headlines as the polls opened, but some liberals said they believed French stoicism will prevent an anticipated late lurch towards Ms Le Pen.

These 48 hours are not going to change everything .. . Terrorism is now an everyday occurrence . It’s permanent, 24 hours a day . So we’re not afraid .

If we’re believers in freedom, we must live with it, said Marise Moron, a retired doctor.

I’m not going to let myself be influenced by people who are trying to frighten us, Paris resident Anne-Marie Redouin said near the heavily-guarded Eiffel Tower. Others, fearful that Ms Le Pen has been strengthened by the instability, said they would shift their votes from fringe candidates in the hope of keeping the far-right out of power.

With an attack such as this one, I think the National Front will get a good result . Therefore I’ll change my intention and cast a useful vote either Melenchon or Macron, said physics teacher Omar Ilys, 44. The French pick for President could resonate far beyond the country s own shores, with implications for the UN, the Syrian war and refugee crisis and world trade.

Crucially, the election is also widely viewed as a ballot on the future of the European Union, following the imminent departure of the UK . Both Ms Le Pen and Mr Melenchon would like to pull France out of the 28-nation bloc and its shared Euro currency a so-called Frexit. Police in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris the day after a gunman opened fire on officers on the Champs-Elysees (Getty Images)

A French exit could sound the death knell for the EU, the euro and the whole idea of European unity that was borne out of the bloodshed of World War II . France is a founding member of the EU and its main driver, along with former rival Germany.

Financial markets appear jittery over a possible Frexit, but Le Pen’s team is downplaying possible apocalyptic scenarios and arguing that the euro is headed for an inevitable break-up in any event. If Ms Le Pen or Mr Melenchon take a spot in the runoff from either of the more centrist candidates, it will be seen as another major triumph for the wave of anti-establishment populism reflected in the choices for Brexit and for Donald Trump. Mr Trump tweeted that the latest terrorist atrocity would have a big effect on the election outcome, claiming: The people of France will not take much more of this.

Many French workers who have lost out through globalisation have expressed discontent at the established parties and are attracted by the promise of a change from the status quo, whether from the far-right or the far-left. Both Mr Macron and Mr Fillon are committed to European unity and have pledged to reform employment laws, with Mr Macron claiming he will counteract the protectionist policies of Mr Trump. In common with Mr Trump and his “put America first” mantra, Ms Le Pen and Mr Melenchon have blamed free trade pacts for killing French jobs and have pledged to renegotiate them.

The count will begin on Sunday evening when polls have closed across mainland France.

Additional reporting from agencies

First Polling Stations Open In French Election Amid High Tension And Tight SecurityReuse content6

References

  1. ^ terrorist incident in Paris. (www.independent.co.uk)
  2. ^ Marine Le Pen (www.independent.co.uk)
  3. ^ Jean-Luc Melenchon (www.independent.co.uk)
  4. ^ Emmanuel Macron (www.independent.co.uk)
  5. ^ Francois Fillon (www.independent.co.uk)
  6. ^ Reuse content (www.independent.co.uk)

London Marathon 2017: Police ramp up security in wake of Westminster terror attack

Police have ramped up security for tomorrow s London Marathon1 in the wake of the Westminster terror attack. The Met Police has warned runners and spectators to be stay vigilant during the race, with the force expecting millions of people to descend on the capital. The warning comes after a police officer was shot and killed in an attack in Paris2 on Thursday, just one month after Met officer Keith Palmer was stabbed to death outside Westminster in a terrorist rampage that killed five innocent people.

The Met has promised a strong and visible presence in the wake of the attacks. Millions of people are expected to take to London’s streets (Getty Images)

Commander Jane Connors said: The Marathon is a fantastic event and embodies everything that s great about London.

Our priority is to ensure that those taking part and watching have a safe and enjoyable experience and I d like to reassure people that there is a comprehensive policing plan in place to achieve this.

There will be a strong, visible presence of officers along the entire route and at transport hubs across London, but if you notice anything suspicious, then please report it to us. Officers from the Met and British Transport Police will be patrolling the streets on Sunday, with the marathon set to start at 10am.

Some 50,000 runners are expected to take part.

Race director Hugh Braster has said there will be really robust security measures and that organisers have deeply looked into safety risks at the event.

London Marathon 2017: Police Ramp Up Security In Wake Of Westminster Terror AttackReuse content3

References

  1. ^ London Marathon (standard.co.uk)
  2. ^ Paris (standard.co.uk)
  3. ^ Reuse content (www.standard.co.uk)

Security dominates French election after shooting

PARIS The killing of a policeman by a suspected Islamist militant pushed national security to the top of the French political agenda on Friday, two days before the presidential election, with leading candidates clashing over how to keep citizens safe.

With the first round of voting in the two-stage election to take place on Sunday, far-right leader Marine Le Pen, an anti-EU politician who wants to ditch the euro, seized on the Paris shooting to push her policies on national security.

Le Pen – narrowly trailing frontrunner Emmanuel Macron in opinion polls – said she would take steps to beat “Islamist terrorism” if elected, including introducing tougher immigration and border controls.

Macron, a former economy minister in the government that Le Pen has criticised repeatedly for its security record, said the solutions were not as simple as she suggested . The centrist candidate, a political novice compared with his opponents, said there “no such thing as zero risk” and anyone who said otherwise was irresponsible.

There are four leading candidates in a race that is still too close to call . Sunday’s round of voting will be followed by a second-round runoff on May 7 between the top two candidates.

Macron is in the lead with 24 percent of the first-round vote, ahead of Le Pen who had fallen back slightly to 21.5 percent, according to an Elabe survey of voter intentions taken before the shooting.

Conservative Francois Fillon, a former prime minister, and the far left’s Jean-Luc Melenchon were snapping at their heels with 20 and 19.5 percent respectively.

The attack on Thursday night on the Champs Elysees boulevard added a new source of unpredictability to a closely contested election that will decide the management of France’s 2.2 trillion euro economy, which vies with Britain for the rank of fifth largest in the world.

The outcome could also have a bearing on France’s place in Europe and the world . Should Le Pen win, it could deal a hammer blow to the European Union, which is still reeling from Britain’s decision to leave the bloc.

All the candidates are seeking to woo the high proportion of people that are undecided about who to vote for – 31 percent according to an Ipsos poll on Friday.

Fillon also seized on the attack, which was claimed by Islamic State, saying the fight against “Islamist totalitarianism” should be the priority of the next president. “It’s us or them,” he said.

TRUMP TWEET

Financial markets though shrugged off the latest twist in the presidential campaign with French bond yields hitting a three-month low on Friday.

The Champs Elysees shooting is the latest in a series of attacks by Islamist militants on France in recent years in which more than 200 people have been killed . A truck ploughed into people in Nice on Bastille Day last year killing more than 80 people while coordinated attacks across Paris including the Bataclan concert hall claimed about 130 lives in November 2015 . There have also been attacks on a Jewish school, a satirical weekly and a kosher market.

U.S . President Donald Trump said on Twitter that the shooting would influence the French election.

“Another terrorist attack in Paris . The people of France will not take much more of this . Will have a big effect on presidential election!” he said.

However previous attacks that have taken place soon before elections, including the November 2015 attacks in Paris ahead of regional polls and the shooting in a Jewish school before the 2012 presidentials, did not appear to change the course of those ballots in favour of those espousing tougher national security.

An assault on a soldier in February at the Paris Louvre museum by a man wielding a machete also had no obvious impact on this year’s opinion polls, which have consistently said that voters see unemployment and trustworthiness of politicians as bigger issues.

SECURITY FORCES ON ALERT

A French policeman was shot dead and two others were wounded in Thursday night’s attack in central Paris.

After an emergency meeting of security officials, Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said security forces, including elite units, were on alert to back up the 50,000 police earmarked to ensure citizens’ safety during the election.

“The government is fully mobilised . Nothing must be allowed to impede the fundamental democratic process of our country,” Cazeneuve told reporters. “It falls to us not to give in to fear and intimidation and manipulation which would play into the hands of the enemy.”

Controls on immigration and national security are cornerstones of Le Pen’s National Front agenda and on Friday she said she would reinstate border checks and expel foreigners who are on watch lists of intelligence services.

Macron was quick to respond to his rival’s comments.

“I’ve heard Madame Le Pen saying again recently that with her in charge, certain attacks would have been avoided,” he said on RTL Radio. “There’s no such thing as zero risk . Anyone who pretends (otherwise) is both irresponsible and deceitful.”

TIGHT RACE

In the Elabe poll, which was conducted on Wednesday and Thursday, both Fillon and Melenchon were seen narrowing Macron and Le Pen’s lead over them.

Should Macron and Le Pen make it to the second round, the former economy minister was projected to win the runoff – and thus the presidency – with 65 percent against 35 percent for Le Pen, the survey for BFM TV and L’Express magazine showed.

Fillon, who has slowly clawed back some ground lost after being hit by a fake jobs scandal, saw his score in the first round rise half a percentage point to 20 percent.

Melenchon, who would hike taxes on the rich and spend 100 billion euros ($107 billion) of borrowed money on vast housebuilding and renewable energy projects, gained 1.5 points to 19.5 percent as he built further on momentum he has seen after strong performances in television debates.

If Melenchon makes it to the runoff, he is projected to beat both Le Pen and Fillon by comfortable margins although he is seen losing to Macron 41 percent to 59 percent.

(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Pineau, Ingrid Melander, Laurence Frost, Bate Felix, Jean-Baptiste Vey; Writing by Richard Balmforth; Editing by Pravin Char)