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Trump says Paris shooting to have 'big effect' on presidential poll

French voters take to the polls for the first round of the presidential elections on April 23, 2017, with far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen a top contender in the polls
JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER (AFP/File)
French PM accuses Le Pen of 'exploiting' Champs Elysees attack for political gain, days before the vote

US President Donald Trump on Friday said a deadly shooting attack in the heart of Paris claimed by the Islamic State group "will have a big effect" on France's presidential vote on Sunday.

"Another terrorist attack in Paris. The people of France will not take much more of this. Will have a big effect on presidential election!" Trump tweeted hours after a gunman shot dead a policeman and wounded two others on the world-famous Champs-Elysees boulevard.

Just days before France heads to the polls in the first-round of a fiercely contested presidential election, the attack has many pundits speculating as to whether it will give the far-right a final boost ahead of the vote.

Observers had long feared bloodshed ahead of Sunday's vote in France, following a string of atrocities since 2015, and this latest attack is likely to thrust security to the front of voters' minds.

Three of the four front-runners -- far-right leader Marine Le Pen, her centrist rival Emmanuel Macron, and scandal-hit conservative Francois Fillon -- all called off campaign events for Friday, the last scheduled ahead of the midnight deadline for electioneering before Sunday's vote.

JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER (AFP/File)

Le Pen, widely seen as taking the hardest line on security, called for France to "immediately" take back control of its own borders from the European Union and deport all foreigners on a terror watch-list.

"This war against us is ceaseless and merciless," she said in a sternly worded address, blasting the "monstrous totalitarian ideology" behind Thursday night's attack by a 39-year-old Frenchman known for his links to jihadists.

French Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve in return accused the far-right candidate of seeking to use the attack for political gain, saying that Le Pen's National Front (FN) "after each attack, seeks to exploit it and use it for purely political means."

Up until now, surveys showed voters more concerned about unemployment and their spending power than terrorism or security, though analysts warned this would change in the event of violence.

Moments before news of the attack emerged, Le Pen had welcomed security moving to the heart of the campaign making similar declarations as she took part in a prime-time interview show alongside 10 other presidential candidates.

THOMAS SAMSON (AFP)

Macron, a 39-year-old moderate whom other candidates have portrayed as too inexperienced to protect France against the terror threat, warned against any attempts to use the attack for political gain.

"I think we must one and all have a spirit of responsibility at this extreme time and not give in to panic and not allow it to be exploited, which some might try to do," he told French radio.

French President Francois Hollande promised "absolute vigilance, particularly with regard to the electoral process" following the attack. He cancelled a trip to Bretagne and will chair a security cabinet meeting Friday.

For weeks, former banker Macron and Le Pen have been out in front but opinion polls now show there is a chance that any of four leading candidates could reach the election's second-round runoff on May 7.

Conservative candidate Fillon and far-left firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon have closed the gap substantially in the last two weeks.

Fillon, who penned a pre-election book called "Beating Islamic Totalitarianism", declared that "the fight against terrorism must be the absolute priority of the next president".

Martin BUREAU (POOL/AFP)

Melenchon wrote of his "emotion for the dead and injured police officers and their families," tweeting: "Terrorist acts will never go unpunished."

Frontrunner Marcon, appearing alongside Le Pen on the interview show said Thursday that "the first responsibility of the president is to protect. This threat will be part of our daily lives in the next years."

Pollsters suggest that Le Pen and Macron will win Sunday’s vote to go through to the second round runoff on 7 May.

While analysts have deemed it unlikely that the National Front leader will be able to win the penultimate vote whoever she faces, a great many pundits are pointing to incorrect predictions about Brexit and Donald Trump after failing to feel the rising pulse of right-wing populism.

France has been in a state of emergency and at its highest possible level of terror alert, with jihadist-inspired assaults killing more than 230 people in recent years.

The shooting comes two days after the arrest of two men in southern Marseille with weapons and explosives who were suspected of preparing an attack to disrupt the campaign.

Thousands of troops and armed police have been deployed to guard tourist hotspots such as the Champs Elysees or other potential targets, including government buildings and religious sites.

See also:

- In France, bracing for possible Le Pen 'nightmare'

- Why French Jews will vote for Marine Le Pen in upcoming elections

(Staff with AFP)

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