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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)

Venezuela security forces battle anti-Maduro protesters

CARACAS Venezuelan security forces quelled masked protesters with tear gas, water cannons and pepper spray in Caracas on Tuesday after blocking an opposition rally against socialist President Nicolas Maduro.

The clashes began after authorities closed subway stations, set up checkpoints and cordoned off a square where opponents had planned their latest protest against autocratic government and a crippling economic crisis.

In cat-and-mouse skirmishes on backstreets and highways around the capital, youths built barricades, burnt trash and hurled rocks and bottles at soldiers and police . Various opposition leaders organised roadblocks.

Police used pepper spray on National Assembly head Julio Borges, two-time presidential candidate Henrique Capriles and rights activist Lilian Tintori, as they led protesters onto highways and jostled at barricades, witnesses said.

Opposition activists said armed pro-government gangs joined the fray and opened fire. “About 50-100 guys arrived on bike and started to shoot in the air,” protester Bernardo Sanchez told local media, saying a bullet had lodged in his thigh.

In one street, kneeling women sang the national anthem as neighbours banged pots and pans from nearby buildings in a show of anger against a government they blame for a deep recession that has led to shortages of food and basics.

“We’re going to get rid of them but we have to fight,” said Jose Zapata, 57, an electrician, as he marched with a stick in his hand.

Overlooking one wide avenue, some pro-Maduro residents in a state housing project threw trash onto protesters below.

With thousands out on both sides, supporters of the 54-year-old president organised their own rally, in a volatile scenario seen constantly during the 18 years of leftist rule in the South American nation.

“They want an intervention in Venezuela,” said Prisons Ministry worker Juan Aponte, 34, who wore the red colours of the ruling Socialist Party.

Protests also were staged in other cities and more are planned across the country for Thursday.

The government accuses opposition parties of abetting a U.S.-led plot to topple Maduro, who has ruled Venezuela since the 2013 death of Hugo Chavez.

INTERNATIONAL PRESSURE

Tensions have soared in the oil-producing country’s long-running political standoff after the pro-Maduro Supreme Court last week annulled the opposition-led congress’ functions.

Although the court retracted that ruling over the weekend, the National Assembly remains powerless due to previous court judgement.

The renewed instability sent Venezuelan bonds lower, with the benchmark 2027 paper’s price down 4.4 percent.

Foreign pressure on Maduro has risen as opposition protests resumed late last week.

“Here the world can see the dictatorial path Mr . Maduro has chosen,” Capriles said.

Maduro says the U.S . government and other foes are whipping up hysteria against him to lay the ground for a coup.

“From the north (the United States), they give the order to the defeated fascist right of Venezuela to fill the streets with violence and blood,” Maduro said on state TV.

“In Caracas, in Venezuela, peace has triumphed once again.”

Maduro’s administration is particularly furious with Organization of American States head Luis Almagro, who is leading regional condemnation.

The regional bloc on Monday urged Venezuela to restore congress’ authority and guarantee separation of powers, but Venezuela’s representative walked out, as did the envoy from fellow leftist Bolivia, which holds the OAS presidency.

“The OAS has surpassed itself in aggression against Venezuela,” Maduro said late on Monday. “It is a real court of inquisition, carrying out abuses and vulgarities.”

Venezuela’s opposition won a National Assembly majority in late 2015 but the Supreme Court has overturned almost all its measures.

Due to the chaos in Caracas, the legislature postponed until Wednesday a session to censure the “rupture” of Venezuela’s constitution . Legislators also plan this week to start proceedings to remove Supreme Court judges but that would only be a symbolic rebuke since congress has no power to act.

(Additional reporting by Diego Ore, Carlos Rawlins, Eyanir Chinea and Andrew Cawthorne; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Bill Trott, Toni Reinhold)

Adele loses it at security guard during her final Australian concert

Adele Loses It At Security Guard During Her Final Australian Concert

GRAHAM DENHOLM/GETTY IMAGES

Adele performs in the first of her two shows at Etihad Stadium in Melbourne, Australia on Saturday. Adele provided fans at her last Australian concert with a moment just as memorable as her music when she stopped the show to lecture a security guard. The British singer broke the crowd record at Melbourne’s Etihad Stadium for the second night running on Sunday, drawing in 77,300 fans as she wrapped up her tour down under.

Adele Loses It At Security Guard During Her Final Australian Concert

GRAHAM DENHOLM/GETTY IMAGES

Adele broke the Etihad Stadium crowd record two nights running. But the Grammy winner broke from the usual routine at one stage when she noticed a security guard telling enthusiastic fans to take their seats. READ MORE:
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Adele Loses It At Security Guard During Her Final Australian Concert

GRAHAM DENHOLM/GETTY IMAGES

The Grammy winner heads to New Zealand next, with shows at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.

“Just before we go to the next song .. . excuse me, sir ? I know you work here, but could you stop telling people to sit down?” Adele said, catching the guard’s attention.

“This is a music show . If people can’t see, then they can stand up . And if you’re moaning about people dancing, then what the f**k have you come to a show for?

“If I see one more person get told to sit down, I swear to God.” The dressing down wasn’t the only unusual highlight for fans, with an unplanned proposal also taking place after Adele invited a man and his partner on stage after she saw him crying during her rendition of Hello.

Adele heads to New Zealand next, with shows at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. – Stuff