Paris attack casts shadow over presidential election

French police searched the home of the suspected Champs Elysees attacker on Friday (April 21) in the Paris suburb of Chelles. VIDEO: REUTERS
News of Thursday's gunman attack in Paris reached French presidential candidates during a televised debate, just days before Sunday's election.VIDEO: REUTERS

Leading candidates talk tough on terrorism ahead of tomorrow's polls

A terror attack just days before France's presidential election saw leading candidates hold forth on issues of security and immigration, amid perceptions that this could sway the vote.

Even United States President Donald Trump jumped into the fray, predicting that the killing of a police officer by a suspected Islamist "will have a big effect on the presidential election".

The top contenders all cancelled their final day's campaigning ahead of tomorrow's polls, but far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, in particular, was keen to seize her moment.

She has been campaigning on an anti-immigration ticket and swiftly repeated her calls to immediately restore border controls and expel foreigners on the government's security watch list.

"We cannot afford to lose this war. But for the past 10 years, left-wing and right-wing governments have done everything they can for us to lose it. We need a presidency which acts and protects us," said Ms Le Pen, whose popularity has been dipping in recent polls.


Conservative candidate Francois Fillon also added to the flames by declaring: "We are at war. There is no alternative. It is us or them."

The remarks drew a sharp rebuke from French Prime Minister Ber- nard Cazeneuve, who accused them of "shamelessly exploiting fear and emotion for purely political ends".

Front runner Emmanuel Macron took a more measured stand, saying he would set up a task force to deal with Islamic militancy, if elected. "Don't yield to fear. Don't yield to division or intimidation."

If no candidate wins an outright majority tomorrow, a run-off between the two top candidates will take place on May 7. So far, Mr Macron and Ms Le Pen are marginally ahead in the opinion polls, but the race is too close to call.

The attack on Paris' Champs Elysees on Thursday night (yesterday morning, Singapore time) has also led to heightened security arrangements ahead of the election.

All elite units have been mobilised while 50,000 policemen will work to keep voters safe in one of the most tense and divisive polls in the country's recent history.

"Nothing must be allowed to impede the fundamental democratic process of our country," PM Caze- neuve said after an emergency meeting with top security officials.

The capital city's famous avenue was sealed after a 39-year-old man drove up to a police van, pulled out an automatic rifle and opened fire. He was shot dead by policemen while trying to flee on foot. Investigators later found a handwritten note at the crime scene praising the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group, as well as a Quran in his car, sources told Agence France-Presse.

The man, identified as French national Karim Cheurfi, was on security services' radar as a potential Islamic radical and had served time for the attempted murder of two policemen, reported French media.

ISIS was quick to claim responsibility for the Champ Elysees shooting, naming the attacker as Abu-Yusuf al-Baljiki on its Amaq news outlet.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 22, 2017, with the headline 'Paris attack casts shadow over presidential election'. Print Edition | Subscribe