France votes in presidential election

France votes in presidential election

Despite a promise not to campaign after Thursday's attack on police on the renowned Champs-Elysees, Le Pen reinforced her message in a speech Friday, calling on the French government to immediately reinstate border checks and expel foreigners being monitored by the intelligence services.

Security was a prominent issue after a wave of extremist attacks on French soil, including a gunman who killed a Paris police officer Thursday night before being shot dead by security forces.

A serial offender, he spent almost 14 years in prison for a range of crimes including attacks on police.

An Elabe survey of voter intentions, carried out before the Thursday night shooting on the Champs Elysees shopping avenue in central Paris, showed Macron with 24 percent of the first-round vote and far right leader Marine Le Pen falling back slightly to 21.5 percent.

Meanwhile, the Islamic State, who claimed the attack, has identified the attacker as Abu-Yusuf al-Baljiki, raising suspicion over the presence of an accomplice.

Authorities are trying to determine whether "one or more people" might have helped the attacker, Brandet said. Analysts have long said a last-minute event could swing the election outcome.

"We are in a phase of decomposition, demolition, deconstruction", said Valls.

Terrorism and national security have been major issues throughout the presidential campaign. Ms Le Pen was up one point, but still in second place with 23pc after leading the pack earlier in the race.

None of the four main French candidates can afford to be neutral on the European Union, whether they portray it as the source of all woes or a guarantee of peace and stability.

The absence in the runoff of candidates from either the mainstream left Socialists or the right-wing Republicans party - the two main groups that have governed post-war France - also marked a seismic shift in the French political landscape.

They took Cheurfi into custody but let him go after a search of his home in the multi-ethnic Paris suburb of Livry Gargan turned up no evidence, Molins said. "The fear is this will heighten concern about Islamic terrorism and enable Le Pen to tap into fears over migration and refugees".

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The latest terror attack in France has pushed national security to the top of the agenda on the eve of the presidential election.

Representing the "National Front" FN, Ms Le Pen has gained some ground on Mr Macron.

Anyone who said otherwise was irresponsible, said Macron, a former economy minister in the government that Le Pen has repeatedly criticised for its security record. "It falls to us not to give in to fear and intimidation and manipulation which would play into the hands of the enemy".

"I'm not convinced that the French are willing to sign a blank check to Mr. Macron", he said.

Asked if the assault would impact voting, the centrist Macron said "no one knows" and appealed for cool heads.

It is now unclear how the event will affect the French election, but candidates have been jockeying for an advantage in the contest by emphasizing their security credentials throughout the campaign period.

"Like in January 2015 when a "Charlie" effect had generated a strong citizens mobilization, it's possible that the attack (of Thursday) provokes a massive reaction of the French and therefore, doubtless, these undecided voters end their uncertainty at a time when they thought they would not vote", Cheurfa told Xinhua in an interview on Friday.

French conservative presidential candidate Francois Fillon gestures as he delivers his speech during a campaign meeting in Toulon, southern France, Friday, March, 31, 2017. There have also been attacks on a satirical weekly and a kosher store.

France has been under a state of emergency for almost a year and a half, with more than 230 people killed in jihadist attacks since the start of 2015.

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.

In the five years since France's last presidential vote, Europe has seen a massive migrant crisis and a rise in populism, both contributing to the Brexit vote.