Three candidates in France’s fiercely contested presidential battle have cancelled events on the last day of the first-round campaign, following the Champs Élysées shooting in which one police officer was killed.
Front National leader Marine Le Pen, former prime minister François Fillon and Socialist candidate Benoît Hamon announced they were calling off Friday meetings which had been scheduled ahead of the midnight deadline for electioneering before Sunday’s vote.
Other candidates reacted with shock and expressions of sympathy for the families of the dead and injured police officers.
Tensions have been heightened across France, which has been under a state of emergency since the November 2015 bombings and shootings in Paris, following the arrest of two suspects in the southern city of Marseille on Tuesday. The men were believed to be planning an “imminent” attack to disrupt the election campaign.
With only two days to go until the polling stations open, Thursday’s shooting will have repercussions far beyond the terrorism-weary French capital. Terrorism and security are high on the list of voters’ concerns, though unemployment and dwindling spending power are more pressing concerns. However, analysts have long warned this could change if there was further bloodshed.
Any attack gives political ammunition to the rightwing candidates such as Le Pen and Fillon who are seen as hawkish on crime and security.
The far-right Front National candidate has vowed to shut France’s borders and to deport foreigners with suspected links to Islamic extremist organisations, overlooking the fact that most of those involved in terrorist attacks in France in recent years were French.
Pascal Perrineau, head of the prestigious Cevipof political research foundation at Sciences Po university, told the Anglo-American Press Association last month there was a danger the election could be derailed by a terrorist attack. “This is an election unlike any other; never before has a presidential vote happened in a state of emergency, which means the democratic process is under certain constraints,” he said.
“An attack could intrude on the electoral campaign; it could have an effect on the results right up until the second round. This we have never seen before.”
The Champs Élysées shooting happened at about 9pm on Thursday when the 11 presidential candidates were taking part in a special live television programme on France 2 titled 15 Minutes to Convince.
Only minutes before news of the attack emerged, Le Pen, the third to appear, was lamenting that issues of security and terrorism were “completely absent” from the presidential campaign. “It’s a major subject that nobody has mentions, except for the last three days nothing has been done,” she said.
“We must take control of our national borders to know who is coming in. We must reorganise the intelligence services, reinforce the means at the disposal of police and gendarmes, and attack the evil at its roots – that’s to say the communitarianism and the development of Islamic fundamentalism.”
Le Pen also repeated her threat to expel foreign nationals who were on the Fiche-S, a national list of those considered a potential threat to national security, even if they had not been convicted of any crime. “Explain to me why we should take the risk of keeping them in our territory.” she said.
Later Le Pen tweeted her “emotion and solidarity for our forces of law and order, targeted yet again”.
Fillon, the last candidate to appear on the France 2 programme, speaking just after 11pm when details of the shooting had emerged, praised the police forces. He also paid his respects on Twitter to the police who “give their lives to protect ours”.
Hard-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon wrote of his “emotion for the dead and injured police officers and their families”.
“Terrorist acts will never go unpunished,” he tweeted.
Frontrunner Emmanuel Macron told French radio: “This threat, this imponderable problem, is part of our daily lives for the years to come. I would like to express all my support for our police forces and more generally the forces of law and order. I am particularly thinking of the victim’s family.”
Fillon, of the conservative party Les Républicains, had planned to travel to the Alpine resort of Chamonix, and Le Pen to a animal welfare centre in the Saône-et-Loire region in east central France.
The latest opinion polls suggest Le Pen and Macron will win Sunday’s vote to go through to the second round runoff on 7 May.