France’s Macron, Le Pen to attend ceremony for slain policeman

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Paris (AFP) – The two candidates vying to be France’s new president will Tuesday honour a policeman killed in a jihadist-claimed attack on the Champs Elysees, as they ramp up a campaign marked by security jitters.

Centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right, anti-immigration candidate Marine Le Pen differ starkly on how to protect France, still reeling from a series of jihadist attacks since 2015 that has claimed more than 230 lives.

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 terrorism.

Macron, who at 39 is favourite to become France’s youngest-ever president, has urged voters not to “give in to fear” and vowed to step up security cooperation with EU partners.

Polls suggest that Macron, who won Sunday’s first round of the presidential election with 24 percent of the vote, will comfortably triumph in the May 7 runoff against Le Pen.

But after the political shocks of Britain’s exit from the European Union and Donald Trump’s unlikely rise to the White House, analysts say a late-stage surge by Le Pen is still possible, if improbable.

France’s political establishment has rallied around the former investment banker in a bid to shut out the far right, with unpopular Socialist President Francois Hollande on Monday urging voters to turn out for Macron.

Thanking Hollande in a tweet for his support, Macron appealed to the French to “remain true to France’s values” in the runoff.

Le Pen portrays her opponent as a member of the French political elite and says she is the only candidate for change in the bitterly divided country, weighed down by high unemployment and inequality.

“Nothing in either Mr Macron’s policies or his behaviour suggests the slightest proof of his love for France,” she said. “We are going to win.”

Le Pen gained more than 1.2 million new voters compared with her last presidential bid in 2012, securing 7.7 million ballots, a result she hailed as “historic”.

Late Monday, she said she was setting party affairs to one side in order to concentrate on the campaign.

“I will feel freer, I will be above partisan considerations, it’s an important act,” Le Pen said.

– ‘Total deregulation’ –

Campaigning early on Tuesday at one of France’s biggest food markets just outside Paris, Le Pen took aim at what she said was Macron’s desire for “total deregulation, total opening up, total free trade.”

“I believe that the state should impose regulations on the market to make sure that one player does not destroy others, as is often the case with large retailers,” she said.

Analysts say that alongside security, the economy will likely dominate a critical TV debate between the two candidates on May 3.

Both Macron and Le Pen campaigned as rebels who transcend the left-right divide.

The Socialist candidate was eliminated with a humiliating 6.36 percent and that of the centre-right Republicans came in third on Sunday with 20 percent.

Republicans candidate Francois Fillon was seen as the favourite until January when his campaign was torpedoed by allegations that he gave his British-born wife and two of their children fictitious jobs as parliamentary assistants.

Fillon, who was charged in March with abuse of public funds, only just scraped ahead of radical left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon on 19.58 percent.

Former prime minister Fillon and fifth-placed Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon have both rallied behind Macron, but Melenchon has pointedly avoided backing the centrist. 

– Legion d’Honneur –

Hollande will lead the ceremony at the Paris police headquarters to honour the officer Xavier Jugele, shot on the French capital’s world-famous Champs Elysees avenue just three days before Sunday’s first round.

Karim Cheurfi, a 39-year-old Frenchman, shot Jugele and wounded two others in the attack, which was claimed by the Islamic State group, before being killed in return fire.

Jugele will be awarded with the Legion d’Honneur — one of France’s highest honours — and be posthumously given the rank of captain. 

Jugele’s civil partner will also speak, and both presidential candidates have said they will be present.

Hollande’s speech will revive memories of an emotional ceremony held for three officer killed during the January 2015 attacks in Paris that started with a shooting at the offices of satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.

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Emmanuel Macron is the clear favourite to become France’s youngest-ever president after topping the first round ahead of National Front leader Marine Le Pen
Copyright AFP/File JEAN-SEBASTIEN EVRARD, VALERY HACHE
Into the 2nd round: Macron vs Le Pen
Copyright AFP Laurence SAUBADU, paz pizarro
Le Pen claimed a ‘historic’ victory in the first round
Copyright AFP Patrick KOVARIK
This file photo taken on April 20, 2017 shows police officers blocking the access of a street near the Champs Elysees in Paris after a shooting
Copyright AFP/File THOMAS SAMSON