France deeply divided as ugly election run-off winds down

May 5, 2017 5:16 pm

French
presidential election candidate Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech during
a meeting at the Place du Vigan, in Albi, southwestern , May 4,
2017. (Photo by AFP)

French centrist Emmanuel
Macron sought to cement his frontrunner status Friday on the last day of
campaigning for the weekend’s election run-off after a bruising and
divisive race.

Pro-European Macron and far-right
anti-immigration candidate Marine Le Pen have offered starkly different
visions for France during a campaign that has been closely watched in
and the rest of the world.
And the battle has only
increased in intensity in the final days after a bad-tempered debate,
with Macron filing a legal complaint over rumors he has an offshore
account.
Both candidates plan high-profile television appearances
on the final day as they seek to win over voters, with polls suggesting
the 39-year-old Macron enjoys a 20-point lead over his opponent.
At
a final rally Thursday in the northern village of Ennemain, Le Pen told
supporters she would give them back the keys to the Elysee Palace.
“France cannot wait five more years to hold its head high,” she said.
At an earlier stop in the western town of Dol-de-Bretagne, protesters threw eggs at her entourage, although she was not hit.
During
a final rally in the southwest town of Albi, Macron told cheering
supporters, “We will keep our promise of change to the end.”
The
former economy minister came under fire however from dozens of union
activists demanding the abolition of France’s controversial 2016 labor
reforms.
Macron’s legal complaint came after Le Pen repeated
rumors he had an offshore account during Wednesday’s TV debate, during
which the pair clashed over terrorism, the economy and Europe, watched
by 16.5 million people.

French presidential candidates Marine Le Pen (L) and Emmanuel Macron (by AFP)”I
hope that we will not find out that you have an offshore account in the
Bahamas,” Le Pen said during the debate, which was her last chance to
narrow the gap.
The 39-year-old ex-economy minister described his
rival’s insinuation as “defamation” and after his complaint, French
prosecutors launched a probe Thursday into who started the rumor.
Macron’s
campaign team called it a “textbook case” of “fake ,” saying it was
spread on Twitter by accounts close to Kremlin-friendly news sites like
Sputnik and RT as well as supporters of US President Donald Trump.
Le
Pen hit back on French radio Friday saying she was “not at all” the
target of the legal suit and her National Front (FN) party had
“absolutely nothing to do” with the rumors.
After the debate, a
snap poll by French broadcaster BFMTV found that nearly two-thirds of
viewers thought Macron was the “most convincing” of the two, broadly
mirroring forecasts for the decisive election Sunday.
In the first
round of the election on April 23, Le Pen finished second behind Macron
with 21.3 percent after softening the FN’s image over the past six
years — but without fully removing doubt about the party’s core beliefs.
Le
Pen has tried to portray Macron as being soft on extremism, playing to
the concerns of many of her supporters after a string of terror attacks
in France.
She sees her rise as the consequence of growing
right-wing nationalism and a backlash against globalization reflected in
the election of Donald Trump in the United States and Britain’s shock
vote to leave the European Union.
Meanwhile, Macron won
high-profile backing from former US president Barack Obama, who said in a
video he “appeals to people’s hopes and not their fears.”
Obama
said Macron had “put forward a vision for the important role that France
plays in Europe and around the world,” and added “Vive la France!”

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