Paris (AFP) – The two candidates vying to become France’s next president attended a sombre ceremony Tuesday honouring the policeman killed on the Champs Elysees, as they ramp up a campaign marked by security jitters.
Centrist politician Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen stood grim-faced among hundreds of mourners as Xavier Jugele’s gay partner delivered a moving eulogy to the 37-year-old officer slain in the shooting claimed by the Islamic State group on the most famous street in Paris just days before the first round of the election.
“I suffer without hatred,” Etienne Cardiles said at the ceremony led by outgoing President Francois Hollande in the elegant courtyard of the Paris police headquarters.
Cardiles was echoing the sentiment of the husband of a victim of the November 2015 jihadist attack on Paris’s Bataclan concert hall who said to the perpetrators: “You won’t have my hatred.”
Jugele had been among the first responders at the Bataclan massacre that claimed 90 lives, and made a point of attending the Sting concert there a year after the bloodbath.
Karim Cheurfi, a 39-year-old Frenchman, shot Jugele and wounded two others in Thursday’s attack before being killed in return fire.
Hollande on Tuesday posthumously made Jugele a knight of the Legion d’Honneur, one of France’s highest honours.
– ‘Don’t give in to fear’ –
Macron and Le Pen — who are going head-to-head in the election run-off on May 7 — 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 with 24 percent of the vote, will comfortably triumph in the run-off.
But after the political shocks of Britain’s vote to leave the European Union and Donald Trump’s unlikely rise to the White House, analysts say a late surge by Le Pen is still possible.
France’s political establishment has rallied around Macron in a bid to shut out the far right, with Hollande on Monday urging voters to turn out for the pro-EU former banker.
Thanking Hollande in a tweet, Macron appealed to the French to “remain true to France’s values” in the final round.
– ‘We are going to win’ –
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”.
On 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.
– Security and the economy –
Campaigning 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.
It is the first time in six decades that the final round will not feature a candidate from the mainstream left or right.
Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon was eliminated with a humiliating vote of just over six percent while Francois Fillon of the centre-right Republicans came in third with 20 percent.
Former prime minister Fillon was seen as the favourite until January when his campaign was torpedoed by allegations 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.
Fillon and Hamon have both rallied behind Macron, but Melenchon has pointedly avoided backing the centrist.