France has fully mobilised its security forces, including elite units, to ensure citizens’ protection during the forthcoming presidential election following Thursday night’s shooting in central Paris, Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said on Friday.
Speaking after an emergency meeting of top security officials, Cazeneuve said all elite units were on top alert for the election to back up the 50,000 police already earmarked for special election duty.
“The goverrnment is fully mobilised. Nothing must be allowed to impede the fundamental democratic process of our country. It falls to us not to give in to fear and intimidation and manipulation which would play into the hands of the enemy,” he said in a statement.
The first round in France’s two-stage election will be held on Sunday with a second final round on May 7.
Security concerns took center stage on Friday in the last days of France’s tight presidential race as candidates defended their stance on the fight against terror in the wake of a shooting in Paris which killed one policeman.
Voters will cast ballots in the first round on Sunday of what has turned into the most unpredictable French election in memory as the gap between four frontrunners narrows. The two candidates who get the most votes will then face off in a run-off election on May 7.
A shooting on Thursday night on the Champs-Elysees shopping boulevard in central Paris, in which one policeman was killed and two others were wounded, could bring campaigning to a sombre and abrupt end, however.
The shooting unfolded on the world-famous Paris site as presidential contenders were mid-way through back-to-back television appearances to sell their campaign programmes. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, according to the group’s Amaq news agency.
Some of the candidates later clashed over whether official campaigning, which has just one more day to run, should be brought to a full stop in light of the incident.
“In this current context, there are no grounds to continue campaigning. We must first show our solidarity with the police,” conservative candidate Francois Fillon told the France 2 show, after saying he would cancel a trip to the Alps on Friday.
Fillon, who has sought to reinforce his credentials as a hard-liner on security, added that fighting “Islamist totalitarianism” must be the priority for the next president.
Far-left politician Jean-Luc Melenchon said the candidates should not cave in to violence.
“As we wait for more definite information, I think we need to attend to our duties as citizens: no panic, we shouldn’t interrupt our democratic process,” Melenchon said.
Pollsters see centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen taking the top two places on Sunday and so going head-to-head in the run-off. That would break the normal rotation of power in France between the centre-left and centre-right.
Macron, a former banker who quit as economy minister last August to set up his independent “En Marche!” (“Onwards!”) movement, would beat Le Pen or any other candidate in the run-off, the latest polls show.
But these are so close that gaps between candidates in the first round fall within the margin of error.
Melenchon, propelled from wildcard to genuine contender thanks to feisty television performances and smart social media campaign, is virtually neck-and-neck with Fillon and only a few percentage points behind the frontrunners.
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