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France’s Centrist Macron, Far -right Le Pen To Fight For Runoff In Presidential Election

 

JOHN LEICESER, LORI HINNANT


Related Video: Macron, Le Pen supporters rejoice; others lament (Provided by Reuters)

PARIS (AP) — Centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right populist Marine Le Pen advanced Sunday to a runoff in France’s presidential election, remaking the country’s political system and setting up a showdown over its participation in the European Union.

French politicians on the left and right immediately urged voters to block Le Pen’s path to power in the May 7 runoff, saying her virulently nationalist anti-EU and anti-immigration politics would spell disaster for France.

The selection of Le Pen and Macron presented voters with the starkest possible choice between two diametrically opposed visions of the EU’s future and France’s place in it. It set up a battle between Macron’s optimistic vision of a tolerant France with open borders against Le Pen’s darker, inward-looking platform calling for closed borders, tougher security, less immigration and dropping the shared euro currency to return to the franc.

With Le Pen wanting France to leave the EU, and Macron wanting even closer cooperation between the bloc’s 28 nations, Sunday’s outcome after a wildly unpredictable and tense campaign meant the runoff will have undertones of a referendum on France’s EU membership.

The absence in the runoff of candidates from either the mainstream left Socialists or the right-wing Republicans party — the two main groups that have governed post-war France — also marked a seismic shift in the French political landscape.

With 34 percent of the vote counted, the Interior Ministry said Sunday night that Le Pen was leading with 24.6 percent of the vote followed by Macron with 21.9 percent. The early vote count includes primarily rural constituencies that lean to the right, while urban areas that lean left are counted later.

Macron, a 39-year-old investment banker, made the runoff on the back of a grassroots start-up campaign without the backing of a major political party.

A French riot police officer carries flowers given to him by a protestor who demonstrated with others in what was described as a march of support for all French security forces, in Paris, Saturday, April 22, 2017. The Saturday march comes just two days after the Champs Elysees attack in which a police officer was shot with two bullets to the head and two others were wounded before being able to kill the shooter. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)© The Associated Press A French riot police officer carries flowers given to him by a protestor who demonstrated with others in what was described as a march of support for all French security forces, in Paris, Saturday, April 22, 2017. The Saturday…

 

Defeated conservative candidate Francois Fillon said he would vote for Macron on May 7 because Le Pen’s program “would bankrupt France” and throw the EU into chaos. He also cited the history of “violence and intolerance” of Le Pen’s far-right National Front party.

In a brief televised message less than 30 minutes after the last polling stations closed, Socialist Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve also urged voters to back Macron “to beat the National Front and block its funereal project of regression for France and of division of the French.”

Socialist presidential candidate Benoit Hamon, who was far behind in Sunday’s results, quickly conceded defeat. Declaring “the left is not dead!” he urged supporters to back Macron.

Voting took place amid heightened security in the first election under France’s state of emergency, which has been in place since gun-and-bomb attacks in Paris in 2015.

Macron supporters at his election day headquarters in Paris went wild at the polling agency projections, cheering, singing “La Marseillaise” anthem, waving French tricolor and European flags and shouting “Macron, president!”

Mathilde Jullien, 23, said she is convinced Macron will be able to win over Le Pen and become France’s next president.

“He represents France’s future, a future within Europe,” she said. “He will win because he is able to unite people from the right and the left against the threat of the National Front and he proposes real solutions for France’s economy.”

Le Pen supporters were equally enthusiastic.

With a broad smile, Le Pen stood before an adoring crowd, said her National Front party will represent “the great alternative” to the French people and pledged to open a “much-needed” debate on globalization.

“We will win!” Le Pen supporters chanted in her election day headquarters in the northern French town of Henin-Beaumont. They burst into a rendition of the French national anthem, and waved French flags and blue flags with “Marine President” inscribed on them.

Polling agency projections showed Macron in the lead with between 23 and 24 percent support, followed by Le Pen with between 21 and 23 percent.

AP

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PARIS TERROR: Police Officer Killed, Two Wounded In ISIS Attack In Paris

 

By Julien Pretot and Emmanuel Jarry

PARIS, April 20 (Reuters) – A French policeman was shot dead and two others were wounded in a shooting in central Paris on Thursday night before the gunman himself was killed by officers, police and the Interior Ministry said.

The Islamic State group claimed the shooting, days before French presidential elections, via its Amaq news agency, naming the attacker as Abu Yousif the Belgian. President Francois Hollande said he was convinced it was a terrorist attack.

A second suspect who might have been involved in the incident on the Champs Elysees shopping boulevard may still be on the loose, authorities said. The famous wide street that leads away from the Arc de Triomphe that had earlier been crowded with Parisians and tourists enjoying a spring evening remained closed off hours after the incident.

France has lived under a state of emergency since 2015 and has suffered a spate of Islamist militant attacks, mostly perpetrated by young men who grew up in France and Belgium, and that have killed more than 230 people in the past two years.

Interior ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said it was too early to say what the motive of the attack was, but that it was clear the police officers had been deliberately targeted.

“A little after 9 PM a vehicle stopped alongside a police car which was parked. Immediately a man got out and fired on the police vehicle, mortally wounding a police officer,” Brandet said.

Officers at the scene said they were searching for a potential second assailant, and Brandet said it could not be ruled out that there was another or others involved.

Officers also conducted a search at the home in eastern Paris of the dead attacker.

“I came out of the Sephora shop and I was walking along the pavement…. A man got out of a car and opened fire with a kalashnikov on a policeman,” witness Chelloug, a kitchen assistant, told Reuters.

“The policeman fell down. I heard six shots, I was afraid. I have a two year-old girl and I thought I was going to die… He shot straight at the police officer.”

Police secure the Champs Elysees Avenue after one policeman was killed and another wounded in a shooting incident in Paris, France, April 20, 2017.© REUTERS/Christian Hartmann Police secure the Champs Elysees Avenue after one policeman was killed and another wounded in a shooting incident in Paris, France, April 20, 2017.

 

POLICE CLEAR THE AREA

Police authorities called on the public to avoid the area.

TV footage showed the Arc de Triomphe monument and the top half of the Champs Elysees packed with police vans, lights flashing and heavily armed police shutting the area down after what was described by one journalist as a major exchange of fire near a Marks and Spencers store.

The incident came as French voters prepared go to the polls on Sunday in the most tightly-contested presidential election in living memory.

“We shall be of the utmost vigilance, especially in relation to the election,” said President Francois Hollande, who is not himself running for re-election.

Earlier this week, two men were arrested in Marseille who police said had been planning an attack ahead of the election.

That incident brought issues of security and immigration back to the forefront of the campaign, with the anti-immigration National Front leader Marine Le Pen repeating her call for Europe’s partly open borders to be closed.

A machine gun, two hand guns and three kilos of TATP explosive were among the weapons found at a flat in the southern city along with jihadist propaganda materials according to the Paris prosecutor.

Candidates in the election said they had been warned about the Marseille attackers. Francois Fillon, who is the conservative candidate, said he would cancel the campaign events he had been planning for Friday. In November, 2015, Paris was rocked by near simultaneous gun-and-bomb attacks on entertainment sites, in which 130 people died and 368 were wounded. Islamic State claimed responsibility. Two of the 10 known perpetrators were Belgian citizens and three others were French.

(Reporting by Richard Balmforth; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Leigh Thomas and Andrew Callus, Ralph Boulton)

REUTERS

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Germany: Player Hurt By 3 Explosions Near Borussia Dortmund Team Bus

 

By MARTIN MEISSNER

DORTMUND, Germany — Three explosions went off near the team bus of Borussia Dortmund, one of Germany’s top soccer clubs, as it set off for a Champions League quarterfinal match on Tuesday evening, slightly injuring a player.

Police said in a statement they were working on the assumption that the blasts ahead of the team’s match against Monaco were caused by “serious explosive devices,” which may have been hidden in a hedge near a car park.

They didn’t elaborate on the possible nature of the devices or say who might have planted them ahead of the first-leg match between Borussia Dortmund and Monaco, which was subsequently called off and rescheduled for Wednesday.

Police said that there were three explosions near the Dortmund team bus as they left their hotel on the outskirts of the western city of Dortmund for the stadium, around 10 kilometers (6 miles) away, at around 7 p.m. local time (1700 GMT).

A window on the bus was damaged and Spanish defender Marc Bartra was injured.

Dortmund said Bartra was taken to a hospital. Dortmund chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke said Bartra was injured in the arm and hand “but nothing life-threatening.”

Dortmund goalkeeper Roman Buerki said the team bus had just pulled out of the hotel driveway when an explosion — a “huge bang” — happened and sent glass flying. The Switzerland international told Swiss daily Blick that he was sitting in the last row of the bus, next to Bartra.

Bartra was hit by shards from the broken back window, he added. Players ducked for cover, wondering whether there would be more explosions.

“We’re all shocked — nobody thought about a football match in the minutes after that,” he said.

Inside the packed stadium, supporters of Monaco, which plays in the French league, chanted “Dortmund, Dortmund” in sympathy for the German side. Dortmund residents, for their part, used social media to offer accommodation to stranded Monaco supporters ahead of their rescheduled match in Europe’s premier soccer club competition.

“The team is totally shocked, that’s clear. It’s our task now to digest this somehow because it’s only 24 hours before we have to play. That’s our job,” Watzke said.

He added that there was “no alternative” to rescheduling the match for Wednesday, as Monaco also has to play at the weekend and the return Champions League match is scheduled for next week.

“It’s a very unfortunate situation but there was no other way,” he said.

Stadium spokesman Norbert Dickel informed fans of the cancellation, saying that “there is no reason for panic here at the stadium.”

Dortmund recommended that fans stay in the stadium and remain calm to facilitate an “orderly departure.” Police say that “nearly all” people in the stadium have left, with no problems.

German Justice Minister Heiko Maas wrote on Twitter: “Shocking news. Our thoughts are with (Borussia Dortmund). You’ll never walk alone!”

Germany has seen matches postponed over security concerns before.

In Hannover, in November 2015, Germany’s international soccer friendly against the Netherlands was canceled just before kickoff after police feared an explosive device might be detonated at the stadium.

It came days after devices were detonated outside the Stade de France in Paris as France was playing Germany as part of a coordinated attack on the French capital.  AP

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Soldiers Thwart Attack On Louvre, Tourist Held In Lockdown

 

PARIS — Paris was plunged into panic — again — when soldiers guarding the Louvre Museum shot an attacker who lunged at them with two machetes on Friday and shouted “Allahu Akbar!” as the historic landmark went into lockdown.

The threat appeared to quickly recede after the assailant was subdued, but it cast a new shadow over the city just as tourism was beginning to rebound after a string of deadly attacks. Coming just hours before Paris finalized its bid for the 2024 Olympics, it also renewed questions about security in the City of Light.

The soldiers’ quick action put an end to what French President Francois Hollande said was “no doubt” a terrorist attack at one of Paris’ most iconic tourist attractions.

French prosecutor Francois Molins said the assailant was believed to be a 29-year-old Egyptian who had been living in the United Arab Emirates, though his identity has not yet been formally confirmed.

“Everything shows that the assailant was very determined”, Molins told a news conference, adding that the attacker, who was shot four times, was in a life-threatening condition in a hospital.

Anti-terrorism prosecutors took charge of the investigation as police carried out raids near the tree-lined Champs-Elysees linked to the attack, which came two months after authorities carried out a special anti-terrorism exercise around the Louvre.

Rescue workers carry a stretcher outside the Louvre museum in Paris,Friday, Feb. 3, 2017. Paris police say a soldier opened fire outside the Louvre Museum after he was attacked by someone.© Thibault Camus Rescue workers carry a stretcher outside the Louvre museum in Paris,Friday, Feb. 3, 2017. Paris police say a soldier opened fire outside the Louvre Museum after he was attacked by someone. Molins said the attacker was not carrying any identity papers but investigators used his cellphone and a national data base of visa applicants containing their photos and fingerprints to determine that he was a resident of the United Arab Emirates who arrived in Paris on a tourist visa on Jan. 26.

Two days later the suspect bought two military machetes at a gun store in Paris, the prosecutor said. He also paid 1,700 euros for a one-week stay at an apartment in the chic 8th arrondissement of the French capital, near the Champs-Elysees.

In the apartment, police found an Egyptian passport and 965 euros, as well as a residence permit, driver’s license and a credit card all issued from the UAE, Molins said. He said the suspect’s return flight to Dubai was scheduled for Sunday.

Friday’s attack targeted an entrance to a shopping mall that extends beneath the sprawling Louvre, a medieval former royal palace now home to the “Mona Lisa” and hundreds of other masterpieces.

Waving two machetes over his head, the assailant lunged at the soldiers patrolling in the mall, shouting “Allahu Akbar!” or “God is great!” Molins said.

One soldier fought him off and was slightly injured in the scalp. Another soldier fell to the ground as the assailant tried to slash him, then opened fire, shooting the attacker in the stomach. When that didn’t stop him, the soldier fired three more time, gravely wounding him. The backpack the man was carrying contained cans of spray paint, but no explosives, Molins said.

The 1,200 people inside the Louvre — one of the world’s biggest tourist attractions — were first shuttled into windowless rooms as part of a special security protocol before being evacuated. The museum in central Paris remained closed for the rest of Friday but will reopen on Saturday, Culture Minister Audrey Azoulay told reporters.

Hollande, speaking at a news conference in Malta where he was attending a European Union summit, said that while the Louvre incident was quickly contained, the overall threat to France remains high. He said the incident showed the need for the increased security patrols deployed around France since attacks in 2015.

Those patrols — numbering about 3,500 soldiers in the Paris area — were first deployed following the January 2015 attack on Paris’ satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and reinforced after the November 2015 bomb-and-gun attacks that left 130 people dead at the city’s Bataclan concert hall and other sites. The country has been under a state of emergency since.

Interior Minister Bruno Le Roux praised the soldiers involved in Friday’s attack, saying “to wear a uniform, as we can see in the propaganda of those who want to attack us, is to be a target.”

Restaurant worker Sanae Hadraoui, 32, said she was waiting for breakfast at a McDonald’s in the Louvre’s restaurant complex when she heard the first gunshot, followed by another and then a couple more.

“I hear a shot. Then a second shot. Then maybe two more. I hear people screaming, ‘Evacuate! Evacuate!'” she said. “They told us to evacuate. I told my colleagues at the McDonald’s. We went downstairs and then took the emergency exit.”

Parisian Makram Chokri, who was shopping in the mall, described hearing a “boom, boom, boom over a few seconds. … We thought it was an exercise at first but you know, you have a lot of scenarios going through your mind.”

Police sealed off mall entrances near the Louvre and closed the area to vehicles, snarling traffic in Paris. Confused tourists were shooed away.

Lance Manus, a tourist from Albany, New York, described young girls crying in panic, and had immediate thoughts of the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.

“That’s what we’re used to now,” he said. “I mean we have to learn to live with it, be vigilant. So we listen to instructions from the security guards and do what they told us.”

Eric Grau, a high school teacher chaperoning a group of 52 students, said: “We were in one of the galleries and a voice came through the loudspeakers to alert us, saying there was an alert.” He said the group was taken to safety in the African art gallery.

The attack came hours before the city unveiled its bid for the 2024 Olympics. Paris is competing against Budapest and Los Angeles for the games, which it hasn’t hosted since 1924.

Speaking outside the Louvre, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said terrorism threatens all of the world’s big cities and “there is not a single one escaping that menace.”

The speed with which Paris largely went back to normal after the attack, with officers gradually dismantling barricades and pulling down police tape around the Louvre just three hours later, underscored how the French city has — unwillingly but stoically — been forced to learn to live with extremist threats.

Within hours, French radio stations went back to talking about storms battering the west coast and school holiday traffic.

___

Associated Press writers Angela Charlton, Greg Keller, Samuel Petrequin, Alex Turnbull and Jeff Schaeffer in Paris contributed to this report.

AP

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