Bernard Cazeneuve. Picture: EPA/CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON
Bernard Cazeneuve. Picture: EPA/CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON

Paris — On Friday, French prime minister Bernard Cazeneuve accused far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen of seeking to use the killing of a policeman on Paris’s Champs Elysées for political gain.

Cazeneuve, a socialist, accused Le Pen of "shamelessly exploiting fear and emotion for purely political ends", just two days before the first round of France’s presidential election. The head of the anti-immigration National Front (FN) "is seeking, as she does after every tragedy, to take advantage of it".

Le Pen is tipped to be one of the top two, in terms of votes, who will qualify on Sunday for a decisive May 7 run-off. FN vice-president Florian Philippot responded to Cazeneuve on Twitter, saying the prime minister should "have resigned a long time ago for his incoherence and lack of rigour".

US President Donald Trump, meanwhile, predicted the attack in Paris would affect the French presidential election, without naming which candidates he believed would benefit. "Another terrorist attack in Paris," Trump said on Twitter on Friday morning. "The people of France will not take much more of this. Will have a big effect on presidential election!"

France’s election is the most open in nearly half a century. Polling shows Emmanuel Macron, a former economy minister who rivals have sought to paint as weak on security issues, leading a crowded field ahead of the first round of voting on Sunday.

Marine Le Pen, who has made terrorism and immigration key issues in her campaign, and François Fillon, a conservative former prime minister, are close behind, as is communist-backed Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

Most of the major candidates canceled campaign events scheduled for Friday after a police officer was killed and two others injured in a shooting late on Thursday that the government was treating as a terrorist attack. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, according to its news agency, Amaq.

After the shooting, Le Pen reiterated her calls for border controls and a crackdown on radical Islam — platform issues that have drawn comparisons to Trump’s campaign. She said in a CNN interview after the US election in November that Trump’s unexpected win could boost her own chances.

"Donald Trump has made possible what was presented as completely impossible," Le Pen said then. "So it’s a sign of hope for those who cannot bear wild globalisation. They cannot bear the political life led by the elites."

Cazenueve said Le Pen had "pretended not to know that it is this government that reinstated control of the borders" after the attacks of November 2015 in Paris that claimed 130 lives. He noted that since then 80,000 people have been turned away at border checks, while 117 people have been deported from France for "terrorist activities".

Cazeneuve also criticised Fillon, who reiterated a pledge to create 10,000 new police jobs. "How can you believe a candidate on this subject when he cut 13,000 from the security forces when he was prime minister" from 2007 to 2012", asked Cazeneuve, who was interior minister before becoming head of government in December. Cazeneuve also pointed out Fillon’s campaign pledge to cut half a million jobs from the civil service if elected.

After Thursday’s attack, Macron said Le Pen’s plans were "nonsense" and he’d improve intelligence with a centralised anti-terror force. Fillon said he wanted greater co-operation with Russia and Iran. Mélenchon said he wouldn’t cede to "panic" and would continue with his plans for the day.

Macron spoke to former US president Barack Obama by phone on Thursday. Obama isn’t making any formal endorsement ahead of Sunday’s vote, spokesman Kevin Lewis said in a statement. But, Lewis said, Obama "appreciated the opportunity to hear from Mr Macron about his campaign and the important upcoming presidential election in France, a country that president Obama remains deeply committed to as a close ally of the US, and as a leader on behalf of liberal values in Europe and around the world".

Bloomberg

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