Bit­ter French cam­paign ends amid more protests

Cape Breton Post - - World -

Far-right pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Marine Le Pen said Fri­day she be­lieves she can pull off a sur­prise vic­tory in France’s high-stakes runoff elec­tion Sunday, while cen­trist fron­trun­ner Em­manuel Macron ac­cused of her of ex­ploit­ing voter fears.

In an in­ter­view with The As­so­ci­ated Press in the fi­nal hours of a hos­tile, top­sy­turvy cam­paign, Le Pen said that win or lose, “we changed ev­ery­thing.” She claimed an “ide­o­log­i­cal vic­tory” for her pop­ulist, anti-im­mi­gra­tion world­view that has dom­i­nated a con­test that could change Europe’s di­rec­tion.

Macron ac­knowl­edged that the French are ex­as­per­ated by the govern­ment’s in­ef­fec­tive­ness, but he dis­missed Le Pen’s vi­sion of an in­fu­ri­ated coun­try, telling RTL ra­dio that she “speaks for no one . ... Madame Le Pen ex­ploits anger and ha­tred.”

The can­di­dates must stop cam­paign­ing at mid­night Fri­day to give vot­ers a day of re­flec­tion be­fore the elec­tion. It’s a stark choice: Le Pen’s an­ti­im­mi­gra­tion, anti-Euro­pean Union plat­form, or Macron’s pro­gres­sive, pro-busi­ness view.

Ten­sions marred the race right to the end, as anti-Le Pen crowds dis­rupted her visit to a renowned cathe­dral in Reims in Cham­pagne coun­try.

The cam­paign has been un­usu­ally bit­ter, with vot­ers hurl­ing eggs and flour, pro­test­ers clash­ing with po­lice, and can­di­dates in­sult­ing each other on na­tional tele­vi­sion — a re­flec­tion of the wide­spread pub­lic

dis­af­fec­tion with pol­i­tics as usual.

Le Pen, 48, has brought her Na­tional Front party closer than ever to the pres­i­dency, rid­ing a wave of pop­ulism and grow­ing frus­tra­tion amid work­ing class vot­ers with glob­al­iza­tion and im­mi­gra­tion. Even if she loses, she is likely to be a pow­er­ful op­po­si­tion fig­ure in French pol­i­tics in the com­ing par­lia­men­tary elec­tion cam­paign and be­yond.

“Even if we don’t reach our goal, in any event there is a gi­gan­tic po­lit­i­cal force that is born,” she told AP in her cam­paign head­quar­ters.

Re­gard­less of Sunday’s out­come, Le Pen said she has achieved an “ide­o­log­i­cal vic­tory . ... We changed ev­ery­thing.”

Her party man­aged to “im­pose the over­haul” of French pol­i­tics and set the tone of the elec­tion, she said.

The 39-year-old Macron, too, played a key role in that, with his wild-card cam­paign

out­side the tra­di­tional party struc­ture.

Vot­ers liked the idea, and chose Macron and Le Pen in the first-round vote April 23, dump­ing the tra­di­tional left­right par­ties that have gov­erned mod­ern France. Le Pen said those par­ties have been “black­balled.”

Many vot­ers, how­ever, don’t like ei­ther Le Pen or Macron. They fear her party’s racist past, while wor­ry­ing that his plat­form would de­mol­ish worker pro­tec­tions or be too much like his men­tor, the deeply un­pop­u­lar out­go­ing Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande.

Stu­dents protest­ing both can­di­dates Fri­day blocked high schools and marched through Paris.

Le Pen, who was pelted with eggs Thurs­day in Brit­tany, was met by heck­lers at the Reims cathe­dral. She left via an un­marked door, putting her arms over her head as if to pro­tect her­self from pro­jec­tiles, and div­ing into a black car.

AP PHOTO

Chil­dren walk past elec­tion cam­paign posters for French cen­trist pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Em­manuel Macron and far-right can­di­date Marine Le Pen, in Osses, south­west­ern France, Fri­day. France will vote on Sunday.

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