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Shots heard in heart of France three days before presidential vote

April 21, 8:47 UTC+3 PARIS

One police officer was shot dead immediately, two others were wounded

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© EPA/IAN LANGSDON

PARIS, April 21. /TASS/. At least one police officer was killed in the shootout on France’s landmark Champs Elysees boulevard on Thursday, three days before the country is to choose its new president.

The shootout took place at 20:50 local time (21:50 Moscow time) on Thursday, in front of the Marks & Spencer store on Champs Elysees, at the corner of Rue de Berri. According to French Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet, one officer was shot dead immediately, two others were wounded. A female foreign tourist, who was passing by, was slightly injured.

The incident coincided with prime-time TV presidential campaign, aired by the France-2 TV.

Police cordoned off the boulevard and the adjacent streets. Additional police and security forces were deployed during a special operation to detain the suspect’s possible accomplices.

"The attacker, who was driving a car, approached a patrol vehicle, left the car and opened fire at police officers. He abandoned his car and tried to flee, but was killed," French Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said.

Shortly after the news of the incident were made public, French President Francois Hollande summoned Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve and Interior Minister Matthias Fekl for an emergency meeting. After the meeting, the president made a public statement, in which he said that a terrorist attack was seen as the most likely version.

"The versions currently being considered by the investigation are related to terrorism," Hollande said, adding that the National Security and Defense Council will gather for an emergency meeting at the Elysee Palace on Friday morning.

Paris chief prosecutor Francois Molins, who arrived at the scene after midnight, said the "investigation was immediately handed over to the department for terrorism-related crimes at the chief prosecutor’s office."

According to the chief prosecutor, the attacker’s identity was established, but will be withheld for investigative purposes so far.

"Investigative measures are under way, searches are being conducted, including to establish whether he (the perpetrator) had accomplices or not," Molins said, adding that more details will be made public on Friday afternoon.

The Islamic State terrorist group, outlawed in Russia, claimed responsibility for the attack, Agence France-Press reported. According to the agency, the gunman arrived from Belgium and had links to extremist groups.

The shooting took place when the country’s national France-2 TV channel aired a pre-election broadcast featuring all 11 presidential candidates, who will face each other in the first round of presidential elections on Sunday.

Security measures have been toughened all across the country. Earlier this week, French law-enforcers reported that they prevented a serious terrorist attack in Marseille, where two suspected Islamists plotted an attack on a presidential candidate.

France has been living under the state of emergency regime since the November 13, 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris and its northern suburb Saint-Denis, when a total of 130 people were killed and 350 injured. The state of emergency was initially imposed for three months, but was extended on many occasions due to a high level of terrorist threat.

When President Francois Hollande last extended the state of emergency in November 2016, he said the terrorist threat remains extremely high and called to keep it at least for the election campaign period.

The first round of presidential elections in France will be held on April 23, the second - on May 7. Later this year, the country will vote in parliamentary polls on June 11 and 18.

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