Macron, Le Pen trade campaign blows on May Day

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen tells supporters she is counting on them and to "stay free" by denying Emmanuel Macron the presidency. PHOTO: REUTERS
Demonstrators at a May Day march in Nantes, France. The banner reads: "Finish with social backstepping that makes the ground fertile for the far-right". The bitterly contested presidential election has polarised France. The latest poll shows Mr Emman
Demonstrators at a May Day march in Nantes, France. The banner reads: "Finish with social backstepping that makes the ground fertile for the far-right". The bitterly contested presidential election has polarised France. The latest poll shows Mr Emmanuel Macron leading Ms Marine Le Pen 61 per cent to 39 per cent.PHOTO: REUTERS

Latest poll shows centrist still in lead, though high abstention rate on Sunday may favour his rival

PARIS • Mr Emmanuel Macron, the centrist front runner in France's presidential polls, and his far-right rival Marine Le Pen traded campaign blows across Paris on May Day, as the country's most crucial election in decades entered its final week.

Three officers were hurt in clashes between riot police and masked youths during a march in Paris. "Masked individuals threw objects and Molotov cocktails at police" who responded by firing tear-gas "and two riot police officers were injured", Agence France-Presse reported the authorities as saying.

The violence erupted near Place de la Bastille in the French capital as the march led by three unions including France's biggest, the CGT, headed for another square nearby.

At one point, a blazing shopping trolley packed with flammable material was pushed towards police lines.

Mr Macron sought for a third successive day to paint National Front leader Le Pen as an extremist, while she portrayed him as a clone of the unpopular outgoing President Francois Hollande, under whom he served as economy minister from 2014 to 2106, reported Reuters.

Mr Macron sought for a third successive day to paint National Front leader Le Pen as an extremist, while she portrayed him as a clone of the unpopular outgoing President Francois Hollande.

The latest opinion poll shows Mr Macron leading Ms Le Pen by 61 per cent to 39 per cent ahead of Sunday's election, which offers France a choice between his vision of closer integration with a modernised European Union, and her calls to cut immigration and take the country out of the euro zone.

"I will fight up until the very last second not only against her programme but also her idea of what constitutes democracy and the French republic," said Mr Macron, an independent backed by En Marche! (Onwards!), a party which he set up a year ago.

But he also told the BBC yesterday that although he believed the EU was still "extremely important for French people", it needed to change.

Mr Macron also said it would be a "betrayal" if he were to allow the EU to continue to function as it was. "And I don't want to do so," he added. "Because the day after, we will have a Frexit or we will have National Front again."

He made his comments about Ms Le Pen after paying tribute to a young Moroccan man who drowned in the River Seine in Paris 22 years ago, after being pushed into the water by skinheads on the fringes of a May Day rally by the National Front, then led by Ms Le Pen's father Jean-Marie.

Meanwhile, Ms Le Pen, campaigning in Villepinte, a suburb north of the capital, told a rally: "Emmanuel Macron is just Francois Hollande who wants to stay and who is hanging on to power like a barnacle."

Separately, Le Pen senior gave his own traditional May Day speech at a statue of French medieval heroine Joan of Arc. "Emmanuel Macron is doing a tour of graveyards. It's a bad sign for him," he said.

The bitterly contested election has polarised France, exposing some of the same sense of anger with globalisation and political elites that brought Mr Donald Trump to power in the US, and caused Britons to vote for a divorce from the EU.

The vote in the world's fifth- largest economy, a key Nato member, will be the first to elect a president who is from neither of the main political groupings; candidates from the Socialist Party and the conservative Republicans were knocked out in the first round on April 23. Between them, Ms Le Pen and Mr Macron gathered only 45 per cent of votes in that round.

The second round of voting will take place in the middle of a weekend extended by a public holiday. That has fed speculation that a high abstention rate could favour Ms Le Pen, whose supporters typically tell pollsters that they are staunchly committed to their candidate.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 02, 2017, with the headline 'Macron, Le Pen trade campaign blows on May Day'. Print Edition | Subscribe