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Le Pen attacks Macron on security ahead of French presidency runoff
Le Pen attacks Macron on security ahead of French presidency runoff

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen on Monday accused Emmanuel Macron, her inexperienced opponent in next month's runoff for the presidency, of being weak in the face of Islamist terrorism.

Global markets reacted with relief to Sunday's first round of voting, which broke the dominance of established parties of the centre-left and centre-right but still left a pro-European Union centrist and former economy minister in pole position to become France's next leader.

The euro briefly reached five-month peaks while European shares rose sharply. [MKTS/GLOB]

The latest opinion polls indicate that Macron, a 39-year-old who has never held elected office, will win at least 61 percent of votes.

Those figures soothed investors who have been unnerved by Le Pen's pledges to ditch the euro, print money and possibly quit the EU, and were nervous of another anti-establishment upheaval to follow Britain's "Brexit" vote and Donald Trump's election as U.S. president.

Le Pen, 48, has also touted her pledges to suspend the EU's open-border agreement on France's frontiers, and to expel foreigners who are on the watch lists of intelligence services, as the right response to a series of Islamist attacks in France.

Seeking to exploit Macron's lack of experience in the area, she told reporters in her northern stronghold of Henin-Beaumont: "I'm on the ground to meet the French people to draw their attention to important subjects, including Islamist terrorism, on which Mr Macron is, to say the least, weak."

France has seen a series of attacks by Islamist militants in the past two years which have killed more than 230 people; only three days before Sunday's vote, a policeman was shot dead and two others were wounded in central Paris in an attack claimed by the Islamic State jihadist group.

But despite this, opinion polls consistently found that voters were more concerned about the economy and the trustworthiness of politicians.

Macron's internal security programme calls for 10,000 more police officers, and 15,000 new prison places. He has recruited a number of security experts to his entourage, and noted that Le Pen has less experience of national government than he does.


Macron won 23.74 percent of votes in the first round against Le Pen's 21.53.

A Harris survey saw Macron going on to win the runoff against her by 64 percent to 36. An Ipsos/Sopra Steria poll gave a similar result while a new poll by Opinionway on Monday put the margin at 61 percent to 39 percent.

Others in Le Pen's campaign took aim on Monday at what they see as further weak spots: Macron's previous job as an investment banker and his role as a deregulating economy minister in the discredited Socialist government of the outgoing president, Francois Hollande.

"Emmanuel is not a patriot. He sold off national companies. He criticised French culture," Florian Philippot, deputy leader of Le Pen's National Front, told BFM TV.

Analysts say Le Pen's best chance of overhauling Macron's big lead in the polls is to paint him as a part of an elite aloof from ordinary French people and their problems.

Philippot called Macron "arrogant" and said his victory speech on Sunday had shown disdain for the French people by making it appear as though the presidency was already won.

He said a post-election dinner with friends at Paris's Rotonde brasserie - by no means a top-tier restaurant - was a flashy "bling-bling" gesture.

Le Pen will be keen to avoid a repetition of 2002, when her father, National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, surprisingly got through to the second round, but was then humiliated by right-wing president Jacques Chirac as mainstream parties united to block a party they considered racist and anti-Semitic.


Le Pen has done much to soften the image of the party, gathering support especially among young people - a quarter of whom are unemployed - with her promises to defend the interests of French workers against "rampant globalization".

Still, two defeated candidates - conservative Francois Fillon and Socialist Benoit Hamon - did not even wait for Sunday's count to urge their supporters to rally behind Macron and thwart Le Pen and her eurosceptic anti-immigration policies.

Whichever candidate wins on May 7 will need to try to build a majority six weeks later in a parliament where the National Front currently has only two seats and Macron's year-old En March! (Onwards!) movement has none.

Macron has already managed to enlist some 50 sitting Socialist lawmakers to his cause, as well as a number of centrist party grandees.

Manuel Valls, a former Socialist prime minister on the right wing of the party who broke with the far-left Hamon's campaign after failing to beat him for the party ticket, said on Monday he would be ready to work with Macron.

"We must help him (Macron) as much as we can to ensure Le Pen is kept as low as possible," Valls said on France Inter radio.

Sunday's outcome was a huge defeat for the two center-right and center-left groupings that have dominated French politics for 60 years.

Conservative Francois Fillon, who insisted to his Republicans party that he would triumph despite allegations that he had paid his wife and two children from the public purse for work they did not do, ended in third place with less than 20 percent.

Hamon got only a third of the 19.5 percent secured by the maverick former Trotskyist Jean-Luc Melenchon, emphasizing the disarray of the French Left after five years of unpopular rule by Hollande.

(Reporting by Michel Rose, John Irish,; Writing by Richard Balmforth)

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