Voting began on Saturday in many of France’s overseas territories such as Martinique and Guadeloupe in the Caribbean, and French citizens cast ballots in the US.
The killing of policeman Xavier Jugele by 39-year-old gunman Karim Cheurfi was the latest in a string of terror attacks in France since 2015 that have claimed more than 230 lives.
Major candidates canceled their last campaign day events Friday over security concerns including the National Front’s Marine Le Pen, Les Republicans’ Francois Fillon and centrist Emmanuel Macron.
Opinion polls showed a tight race among four top contenders vying for the two places in the May 7 runoff that will decide who becomes the next head of state. Cheurfi also had addresses of police stations written on bits of paper in his auto, he said.
The US president said the shooting would “probably help” Ms Le Pen in Sunday’s election, because she is “strongest on borders, and she’s the strongest on what’s been going on in France”.
It is now unclear how the event will affect the French election, but candidates have been jockeying for an advantage in the contest by emphasizing their security credentials throughout the campaign period. The attack has made security an even more prominent issue in the presidential election. “And I have been saying it for a long time”, Trump said in response to a question as he was joined by Gentiloni in condemning the attack.
A BVA poll conducted on Thursday and Friday showed Le Pen and Macron tied on 23 percent, ahead of Melenchon with 19.5 percent and Fillon on 19 percent.
Soon after the attack was over, ISIS claimed Cheurfi as one of their “fighters” but identified him as “Abu Yousif al-Bebiki [the Belgian]”.
In Le Pen’s northern bastion of Henin-Beaumont, several activists from the feminist group Femen were arrested Sunday after staging a topless protest against her. Police intervened and stopped the commotion minutes before the candidate arrived to cast her ballot.
The pivotal election could decide the future of the Euro, European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. But conservative Francois Fillon, a former prime minister embroiled in a scandal over alleged fake jobs given to his wife and children, appeared to be closing the gap in recent days, as was far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon. He pledged heightened security as French voters go to the polls, including deployments of heavily armed soldiers from France’s Operation Sentinelle, which targets terrorist threats.
With Le Pen wanting France to leave the European Union and Macron wanting even closer cooperation among the bloc’s 28 nations, Sunday’s outcome means the May 7 runoff will have undertones of a referendum on France’s European Union membership. Le Pen’s team is downplaying possible apocalyptic scenarios and arguing that the euro – which is now used by 19 nations – is headed for a breakup eventually anyway.
The warning was circulated more widely among French security services in the hour following the Champs Elysees attack.
“Fillon will reform the economy more drastically, while Macron will be slower to implement the changes that are needed”.
Alternatively, if neither candidate makes it past Sunday’s first round into the runoff, that’s a clear message that populist nationalism is receding.
The 11 candidates are also voting throughout the day.
Her supporters burst into a rendition of the French national anthem, chanted “We will win!” and waved French flags and blue flags with “Marine President” on them.