Amiens (France) (AFP) – French presidential frontrunner Emmanuel Macron was booed and heckled with chants backing his far-right rival Marine Le Pen as he made a chaotic visit to an under-threat factory in the nation’s rustbelt on Wednesday.
Some in the crowd shouted “President Marine!” and booed as the 39-year-old former banker arrived outside the Whirlpool appliance factory in the northern city of Amiens, where Le Pen had made an unannounced stop hours earlier.
“I am here to speak to you,” said the pro-business former economy minister, ringed by a horde of cameramen and journalists. “Of course there is anger in this country, there is anxiety. Responsibility must be taken, that’s why I’m here.”
The factory operated by Whirlpool, a US multinational company, is threatened with outsourcing to Poland.
Amiens is Macron’s hometown and he was there to try and counter accusations that he had made a complacent start to campaigning for the presidential runoff on May 7. He finished ahead of Le Pen, 48, in the first round on Sunday.
Polls currently suggest that Macron will defeat Le Pen in the run-off with a margin of some 20 points, but as Wednesday’s events showed, the far-right candidate is a vastly more experienced political campaigner.
And after the shocks of Britain’s vote to leave the European Union and Donald Trump’s unlikely ascent to the White House, analysts say a late surge by Le Pen is still possible.
Macron is also due to hold a rally in Arras, a city in the economically depressed north where Le Pen topped first-round voting.
While Macron had arranged to meet Whirlpool workers’ union representatives without actually visiting the plant, Le Pen turned up unannounced outside the plant and posed for selfies with workers and attacked her rival.
“Everyone knows what side Emmanuel Macron is on — he is on the side of the corporations,” Le Pen said.
“I am on the workers’ side, here in the car park, not in restaurants in Amiens.”
As news broke of the Le Pen visit, Macron announced he would also go to the plant to meet with its employees.
After arriving he told angry workers that the only reason the anti-EU candidate had come was “because I’m here”.
He also retorted on Twitter that she had spent “10 minutes with her supporters in a car park in front of the cameras” whereas he had spent “an hour and a half with union representatives and no media.”
Macron’s visit came as a Harris Interactive poll showed 52 percent of the French believe he botched the start of campaigning for the run-off.
After winning Sunday’s contest with 24.1 percent to Le Pen’s 21.3 percent, Macron gave an exuberant victory speech followed by a high-profile celebration at La Rotonde bistro in Paris, drawing criticism from some quarters.
Socialist Party boss Jean-Christophe Cambadelis told French radio: “He was smug. He wrongly thought that it was a done deal. It’s not a done deal.”
President Francois Hollande appeared on Tuesday to admonish his former economy minister for not taking the fight to Le Pen immediately after the first round.
Macron shot back, saying: “I will continue to fight for two weeks… I will defend the progressive camp to the end.”
- ‘Not a single vote’ –
Since securing her berth in the run-off, Le Pen has turbo-charged her campaign with a string of appearances and statements, leaving her opponent on the back foot.
In contrast, her opponent had convened strategy meetings over June legislative elections that would determine the shape of a future Macron government.
Le Pen will hold a rally in the Riviera city of Nice on Thursday, a bastion of France’s right that was targeted by a jihadist-inspired truck attack that killed 86 people last July.
Le Pen has called for France to take back control of its borders from the European Union and deport all foreigners on a terror watchlist, accusing Macron of being soft on security.
A key factor in the race is which candidate the supporters of Communist-backed Jean-Luc Melenchon, who finished in fourth place with 19.58 percent on Sunday, will back in the run-off.
Melenchon faced criticism after he failed to urge people who voted for him to get behind Macron as part of the so-called “republican front”, the decades-old French tactic of closing ranks to block the far-right.
Melenchon’s France Insoumise (Unbowed France) movement is holding a consultation on which candidate to support, but his spokesman Alexis Corbiere said the hard-left firebrand would not endorse anyone.
Corbiere however told French TV channel LCI earlier Wednesday that “for us the National Front is a danger” and urged viewers to not give “a single vote to the National Front.”
Le Pen said Monday she was quitting temporarily as head of her National Front (FN) party to concentrate on the campaign.
<figure><figcaption>Emmanuel Macron has been urged to come out punching <span>Copyright AFP PHILIPPE HUGUEN</span> </figcaption><img src="https://desiforce.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/aca428484fafed3cac12a167d4ee380be4eb494a-2.jpg" width="585" height="768"><figcaption>Macron and Le Pen will face off in a run-off on May 7 <span>Copyright AFP/File Laurence SAUBADU</span> </figcaption><img src="https://desiforce.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/471a0c53ec4d6d037fb0aabeadd783d24f50b58e-2.jpg" width="768" height="512"><figcaption>Marine Le Pen is seen to have been first out of the blocks for the second round campaign <span>Copyright AFP bertrand GUAY</span> </figcaption></figure>