Marine Le Pen accused of ‘exploiting’ Champs-Elysées attack

French Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve on Friday accused far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen of seeking to use the killing of a policeman on Paris's Champs Elysees for political gain.

Marine Le Pen accused of 'exploiting' Champs-Elysées attack
Photo: AFP

Cazeneuve, a Socialist, accused Le Pen of “shamelessly exploiting fear and emotion for purely political ends,” just two days before the first round ofFrance's presidential election.

The head of the anti-immigration National Front (FN) “is seeking, as she does after every tragedy, to take advantage of it”.

Le Pen is tipped to be one of the top two vote-getters who will qualify on Sunday for a decisive May 7 runoff.

FN vice president Florian Philippot responded to Cazeneuve on Twitter, saying the prime minister should “have resigned a long time ago for his incoherence and lack of rigour”.

In the wake of the attack, Le Pen said “this war against us is ceaseless and merciless,” and charged that the outgoing Socialist government and its rightwing predecessor had “done everything to ensure that we lose” the fight.

Le Pen, widely seen as taking the hardest line on security among the candidates, called for France to “immediately” take back control of its own borders from the European Union and deport all foreigners on a terror watchlist.

Cazenueve said Le Pen had “pretended not to know that it is this government that reinstated control of the borders” after the attacks of November 2015 in Paris that claimed 130 lives.

He noted that since then 80,000 people have been turned away at border checks, while 117 people have been deported from France for “terrorist activities”.

Cazeneuve also criticised conservative candidate Francois Fillon, who reiterated a pledge to create 10,000 new police jobs.

“How can you can believe a candidate on this subject when he cut 13,000 from the security forces when he was prime minister” in 2007-12, said Cazeneuve, who was interior minister before becoming head of government in December.

Cazeneuve also pointed out Fillon's campaign pledge to cut half a million jobs from the civil service if elected.

Fillon is among four candidates bunched at the head of the pack going into Sunday's first-round vote.

READ ALSO: What impact will the Champs-Elysées attack have on French election?

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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.”