French Campaign Heats Up With Rallies, May Day Marches


PARIS (AP) — With just six days until a French presidential vote that could define Europe’s future, far-right leader Marine Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron held high-stakes rallies Monday that overlapped with May Day workers’ rights marches, reminding both candidates that jobs are voters’ No. 1 concern.

The tense presidential campaign interrupted the usual calm of the May Day holiday. Supporters of both candidates took to the streets, airwaves and social media to weigh on an election closely watched by financial markets and France’s neighbors as a test of the global populist wave.

While Le Pen got an endorsement from her father, Macron held an emotional meeting with a Moroccan man whose father died years ago when he was thrown off a Paris bridge by far-right skinheads.

Wanted or not, Le Pen was praised by 88-year-old father Jean-Marie, the co-founder of her National Front party whom she expelled in 2015 after he reiterated anti-Semitic comments.

In a speech before the gilded statue in Paris of Joan of Arc, his heroine, Jean-Marie Le Pen urged French voters to back his daughter in Sunday’s runoff.

“She is not Joan of Arc but she accepts the same mission … France,” Jean-Marie Le Pen said.

He denounced Macron, her rival, calling him a “masked Socialist” and a candidate back by the highly unpopular Socialist President Francois Hollande.

“He wants to dynamize the economy, but he is among those who dynamited it,” the elderly Le Pen said, referring to France’s stagnant economy and high jobless rate around 10 percent, and Macron’s role in it as one-time economy minister.

Marine Le Pen, speaking in a hall outside Paris, also skewered Macron, a former investment banker, calling him a “puppet” of the world of finance and Islamic fundamentalists.

Cheers of “Marine President!” and anti-immigrant chants rose up in the crowd of thousands for Le Pen’s rally Monday north of Paris.

Le Pen, who hopes to mimic Donald Trump’s populist electoral victory, compared Macron to Hillary Clinton. She also sought repeatedly to puncture Macron’s argument that he represents change, calling him Hollande’s lapdog, the candidate of “the caviar left.”

She warned that his pro-business policies would not create jobs but send them abroad and leave French workers hungry.

Macron, seeking to remind voters of the National Front’s dark past, paid homage to a Moroccan man thrown to his death in the Seine River amid a far-right march over two decades ago. Macron joined the man’s son and anti-National Front protesters at an annual commemoration near the Louvre Museum in Paris.

The National Front traditionally holds a May Day march in Paris to honor Joan of Arc. But at the 1995 event, a group of skinheads broke away and pushed 29-year-old Brahim Bourram off a bridge into the Seine, where he drowned. The death drew national outrage.

Standing Monday on the same bridge, Macron hugged Bourram’s son Said, who was 9 when his father was killed.

Said, a chauffeur who supports Macron, said his father was targeted “because he was a foreigner, an Arab. That is why I am fighting, to say ‘No’ to racism.”

Macron said, despite Marine Le Pen’s efforts to distance herself from her father’s anti-Semitism, “the roots are there, and they are very much alive.”

“I will not forget anything and I will fight to the last second, not only against her project but against the idea she has of democracy and the nation,” Macron declared.

Polls consider Macron the front-runner but the race has been exceptionally unpredictable.

Marine Le Pen said on France-2 television Sunday night that the political rupture with her father “is definitive.” She called it a “violent” decision for herself, but said she did it “because the higher interest of the country was at stake.”

Her event was opened by Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, a conservative candidate from the first-round election who shocked many French by agreeing to be Le Pen’s prime minister if she wins the presidency.

Le Pen, speaking Monday on Europe-1 radio, reached out to “all those who are patriots” and who want to restore French borders and currency and “rediscover the voice of labor, defend our identity, fight against Islamic fundamentalism.”

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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