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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

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Met Police face ‘monster’ security operation as Donald Trump insists …

Donald Trump1 has demanded he is transported in the Queen s2 gold carriage on his state visit to the UK leaving security chiefs with a monster operation to plan.

The White House3 has reportedly made it clear that the President expects the traditional state welcome of a carriage procession down the Mall with Her Majesty.

But security officials in London have warned that it would prove difficult to secure the area and will require an operation far greater than any other recent state visit. According to a report in The Times4, President Trump is adamant that he want the procession to be a part of his State visit due to take place in October despite his predecessor opting for a less traditional vehicle. Carriage: Trump wants to ride with the Queen in the Gold-plated carriage down the Mall

On his visit to the UK in 2011, former President Barack Obama chose to travel in an armoured, bullet-proof car to meet the Queen.

London s Met Police was already facing a challenge in ensuring the controversial President remains safe whilst allowing the public to demonstrate. Procession: The carriage would carry the President down the Mall

And a source has told the newspaper that this recent demand has only served to increase complexity of the arrangement. The source said: “The vehicle which carries the president of the United States is a spectacular vehicle . It is designed to withstand a massive attack like a low-level rocket grenade.

Visit: Theresa May ignored protests and a petition and invited the President on a state visit (Getty Images)

If he’s in that vehicle he is incredibly well protected and on top of that it can travel at enormous speed . If he is in a golden coach being dragged up the Mall by a couple of horses, the risk factor is dramatically increased.

“There may well be protections in that coach such as bulletproof glass, but they are limited . In particularly it is very flimsy.

“It would not be able to put up much resistance in the face of a rocket propelled grenade or high-powered ammunition . Armour-piercing rounds would make a very bad show of things.”

Police will liaise with the Secret Service to plan the operation and armed officers are expected to be dotted around in the crowds.

Thousands protested against the President s state visit when it was announced in January and 1.8 million people signed a petition calling for the invitation to be retracted. Former Met Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe revealed the visit was likely to cost the force millions of pounds due to the expected demonstrations. Thousands protest over Donald Trump’s state visit

Sir Bernard said the force had some concerns already about the extent of the demonstrations that might be staged.

He said that police would be mounting quite a big operation and that he would not dispute a suggestion the cost could match the 7.5 million cost of policing the G20 summit in 2009.

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Steve Bannon threatened to quit if removed from National Security Council, say reports

Few things give Washington pundits1 more pleasure than monitoring the varying fortunes of White House officials – especially when those officials are somewhat controversial. So there was no some furore when it was revealed Steve 2Bannon3, the far right adviser to Mr Trump, had been removed from his position on the National Security Council . It has now been reported the former Breibart publisher threatened to quit the administration as he fought to retain the role. The New York Times said Mr Bannon s allies denied he threatened to leave, and sought instead to portray the move as a natural evolution as the government settled in.

Susan Rice operationalised the NSC . during the last administration, Mr Bannon said in a statement, mentioning Barack Obama s national security adviser.

I was put on the NSC with General Michael Flynn to ensure that it was de-operationalised .

General McMaster has returned the NSC to its proper function. Yet within Washington, the decision to remove Mr Bannon from the NSC s principals committee – a move that was said have been orchestrated by Lt Gen HR McMaster, Mr Trump s national security advisor – was seen as possible indication that the far right former navy officer s fortunes may be waning. Steve Bannon being talked about will be his kiss of death

For the first weeks of the administration, Mr Bannon s hand appeared to be present at every decision of any importance . He encouraged Mr Trump to attack the media, and revelled in personally denouncing reporters as the opposition . He pushed Mr Trump to retain the chaotic management style that had marked the election campaign.

Yet it is possible that Mr Bannon s influence may be diminishing, as Mr Trump turns increasingly to those he believes he can trust the most – family members such as Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner. His eldest daughter has taken a position as federal employee within the White House, as has Mr Kushner, the former real estate magnate who appears to have been given responsibility for everything from relations with China to bringing peace to the Middle East . This week, there was much scorn as Mr Kushner was photographed during a visit to Iraq to meet with US and Iraqi military officials.

The newspaper said Mr Bannon s enemies, inside and outside the White House, celebrated what they saw as a defeat for a man who has been seen as the power behind the presidency.

He didn t belong on the principals committee to begin with – doesn t really belong in the White House at all, said Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of California .

I hope that this is a sign that McMaster is taking control of the National Security Council.

Others speculated that Mr Trump may have acted partly out of annoyance over reports that suggested that Mr Bannon, and not he, was the person actually running the country.

Steve Bannon Threatened To Quit If Removed From National Security Council, Say ReportsReuse content4


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