France tense on the eve of presidential election


AFP

PARIS — France was on edge Saturday on the eve of its most unpredictable presidential election in decades, which will take place under heightened security after the jihadist killing of a policeman.

The Islamic State-claimed slaying of the officer on Paris’s Champs Elysees avenue thrust questions of security to the fore of campaigning after nine months of relative calm. Nearly a quarter of voters are still undecided, and surveys showed until now the French to be more concerned about jobs and the economy than terrorism. But analysts warned Thursday’s shooting could change that. The top two vote getters in Sunday’s tight, four-way contest will head to a run-off on May 7.

Authorities in Paris have offered additional guards for hundreds of polling stations in the capital, which will come on top of an already major security plan across the country.

“An extra guard or reinforcement of staff will be provided to any polling station that needs it,” Paris town hall official Colombe Brossel said.

On Sunday, around 50,000 police and 7,000 soldiers will be deployed to protect voters around France. Voters headed to the polls on Saturday in many of France’s overseas territories like Martinique and Guadeloupe in the Caribbean, as well as in the US. France was still shaken two days after 39-year-old gunman Karim Cheurfi shot dead a police officer and wounded two others before being killed, in an attack that sent tourists on the Champs Elysees rushing for cover. Far-right leader Marine Le Pen moved quickly to present herself as the strongest defender against Islamist radicals in a country under a state of emergency since a string of terror attacks that began in 2015, which have killed more than 230 people. The 48-year-old leader of the anti-immigration National Front called for France to “immediately” take back control of its borders from the European Union and deport all foreigners on a terror watchlist.