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ELECTION

Marine Le Pen goes back to hardline basics in final push before election

Marine Le Pen continued her "full throttle" bid to woo far right voters on Wednesday when she stuck to the themes of Islamist terrorism, immigration and identity at a rally in Marseille and also demanded a TV station remove a European flag for an interview.

Marine Le Pen goes back to hardline basics in final push before election
All Photos : AFP

French far-right candidate Marine Le Pen on Wednesday accused her rivals of turning a blind eye to Islamic terrorism at her last major rally before the first round of a nailbiting race for president.

Addressing nearly 5,000 flag-waving supporters in the southern city of Marseille, where two Frenchmen were arrested Tuesday on suspicion of planning an attack on the election, the National Front (FN) leader said: “I have been denouncing this terrible poison of Islamic terrorism since I launched my campaign … and none of my rivals are willing to debate the subject.

“They wanted to stay quiet about this problem, to suppress it, to keep it at a distance like one sweeps dust under the carpet,” she said.

“The silence of the other candidates comes from shame, the shame of being a member or even having led a government which did nothing to lower the threat and even created the conditions for this scourge to develop,” she told the rally, which was held under tight security.

Police fired teargas and arrested four people after around 500 people demonstrated against Le Pen (see pic below) and tried to march towards the rally. Some of them threw projectiles and firecrackers.

“Terrorist acts have multiplied throughout Europe during the campaign,” she said. “Here in Marseille two fanatics were arrested before they committed odious crimes.”

'Back to basics'

Le Pen, 48, has spent years trying to grow support for the FN by campaigning on bread-and-butter issues, but in the final days of the race she has returned to its stock themes of immigration and national identity.

In a BFM television interview Wednesday she repeated that she would slash immigration, make it harder to get French nationality and crack down on suspected Islamists.

Polls show Le Pen, 39-year-old centrist Emmanuel Macron, conservative former prime minister Francois Fillon and hard left firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon locked in a tight four-way race ahead of Sunday's first round of voting.

A new survey published Wednesday showed Macron leading on 23 percent to Le Pen's 22.5 percent — both of them down slightly.

Fillon had improved to 19.5 percent while Melenchon had reached 19 percent, narrowing the gap with the frontrunners.

The top two will advance to a run-off vote on May 7th.

Jean-Yves Camus, an academic and expert on the FN, told AFP that Le Pen had returned to the “fundamentals, and particularly immigration” in the final run-in.

“It's back to basics,” he said. “The FN top brass has decided to go full throttle for far-right voters.”

( sEcurity was tight at Le Pen's rally in Marseille.)

'Terror would not have happened under me'

Le Pen has claimed that her proposals such as expelling any foreigner convicted of a crime or suspected of being radicalised would have helped prevent some of the attacks since 2015 which have claimed more than 200 lives.

Left-leaning Le Monde newspaper has dismissed the claim as “absurd” given that most of the attackers were French, many without criminal records.

“You don't seek votes on the backs of dead people. It's a sort of moral red line,” the newspaper said.

French voters have so far been more concerned about unemployment and their spending power than terrorism or security, polls show, though analysts warn this would change quickly in the event of bloodshed.

Le Pen demands removal of EU flag

Some analysts have also depicted the French election as a sort of referendum on the European Union, with Le Pen proposing to a referendum on France's membership of the 28-country club and scrap the euro common currency.

On Tuesday night, she insisted that the TF1 television channel remove the blue-and-yellow European flag from behind her before an interview.

Polls show that a majority of French people still support the EU and the euro.

The election has been one of the most unpredictable in decades and takes place against the backdrop of Britain's shock decision to leave the EU and Donald Trump's presidential victory in the United States.

ELECTION

Le Pen narrowly tops European election polls in France in blow for Macron

The far-right National Rally party led by Marine Le Pen finished top in European elections in France on Sunday, dealing a blow to pro-European President Emmanuel Macron.

Le Pen narrowly tops European election polls in France in blow for Macron
Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella. Photo: AFP

Results released on Monday morning by the Ministry of the Interior, which have yet to be formally verified and declared by the National Voting Commission, showed that the far right Rassemblement National (RN) party topped the polls with 23.3 percent of the vote, beating French president Emmanuel Macron's La Republique En Marche.

They were closely followed by Macron's party, which polled 22.4 percent.

Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron at a polling station in Le Touquet earlier on Sunday. Photo: AFP

The allocation of seats in the European Parliament has been complicated for France by the UK's delayed departure from the EU.

The Parliament had already decided that after Brexit, some of the seats that had been occupied by British MEPs would be reallocated to other countries, with France set to gain an extra five seats

However, last minute delays to Brexit meant that the UK had to take part in the elections, with the result that France will not gain its extra seats until Britain leaves the EU.

On last night's polling results, the RN will get 22 seats in the European parliament immediately, and an extra seat once Britain leaves.

Macron's LREM will get 21 seats now and 23 after the UK leaves.

The green party lead by Yannick Jadot was placed third with 13.4 percent of the vote, gaining 12 seats now and 13 after Brexit. 

The two parties that between them had dominated French politics for decades until the rise of Macron both polled in single figures. Nicolas Sarkozy's old party Les Republicains polled 8.4 percent, while the Socialist party of Francois Hollande was on 6.31 percent, winning them eight and six seats respectively.

Meanwhile the 'yellow vest' candidates scored just 0.54 percent of the vote, below the Animalist party which polled 2.17 percent.

Nathalie Loiseau with LREM party workers. Photo: AFP

Although a total of 34 parties fielded candidates in the European elections in France, the election had largely been framed as a contest between Macron and Le Pen.

Macron's La Republique En Marche party, its list headed by former Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseau, was contesting its first European elections.

Marine Le Pen, on the other hand, was hoping to replicate her 2014 European election victory with her Rassemblement National party, its list headed by a political novice, the 23-year-old Jordan Bardella. Bardella called the results a “failure” for the LREM ruling party and sought to portray Macron's defeat as a rejection by voters of his pro-business agenda in France and pro-EU vision.

Macron had made no secret of the significance he attached to the results, telling regional French newspapers last week that the EU elections were the most important for four decades as the union faced an “existential threat”.

Jordan Bardella, head of the RN list. Photo: AFP

He has jumped into the campaign himself in recent weeks, appearing alone on an election poster in a move that analysts saw as exposing him personally if LREM underperformed.

The score of the National Rally is slightly below the level of 2014 when it won 24.9 percent, again finishing top.

Le Pen had placed herself towards the bottom of the RN list, so she will be returning to the European Parliament, where she served as an MEP from 2004 to 2017.

Turnout at the polls in France was the highest in recent years, with 50.12 percent of people voting, significantly up from 35.07 percent in 2014.

Veteran France reporter John Lichfield said: “After six months of 'yellow vest' rebellion, that Macron list has 22 percent is respectable. Much better than President Hollande did in 2014 (14.5 percent).

“But he made the election all about himself and lost. His hopes of emerging as de facto EU leader or enacting more French reforms are damaged.”

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