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French presidential election debate ends overshadowed by terror attack

April 21, 13:20 UTC+3 PARIS

"We feel anger and grief again," said the National Front’s candidate Marine Le Pen

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© Martin Bureau/Pool Photo via AP

PARIS, April 21. /TASS/. Most French presidential candidates believe it will be essential for Paris to conduct an independent foreign policy and maintain wide international cooperation in the struggle with terrorism, as follows from what was said in the final round of TV debates by eleven presidential hopefuls on France-2 television channel late Thursday evening. The first round of the presidential election is due Sunday, April 23.

All those in the studio came out in support of the families of police killed and injured in the Champs Elysees shootout. "We feel anger and grief again," said the National Front’s candidate Marine Le Pen. "A plan for uprooting terrorism must be adopted and determination displayed."

No patrons or enemies

Each of the eleven contenders had fifteen minutes to brief the audience on one’s election program. Jean Luc Melenchon, the founder of the left-of-center movement Unsubmissive France, was the first to answer questions. He said France’s orientation towards Western alliances was a great mistake.

"In the modern world we should have no patrons or foes," he said.

The United Nations Organization should be the sole benchmark, he argued. Melenchon criticized the United States for acting in defiance of the UN, which, he believes, endangers the organization’s authority. "When he ordered the strikes on Syria, US President Donald Trump did not bother to seek permission either from the United Nations or his own Congress," he said.

Farewell to NATO?

Popular Republican Union leader Francois Asselineau insists France should quit both the European Union and NATO. He promised that in case of his election victory he would scrutinize the feasibility of French military presence in certain countries around the world. At the same time he said that "Russia has every reason to provide military assistance to Syria, because it was asked to do so by the Syrian authorities."

He called for restoring the France Presse news agency’s status of a national news service, granted to it by the leaders of the Resistance at the end of World War II. Nicolas Dupont Aignan, a member of the National Assembly who is contesting the French presidency from the France Arise movement, urged the conclusion of a new European treaty in order to put an end to Brussels’s dictating. "Paris should get back its powers and stop obeying NATO," he believes. France, he argues, should control its borders on its own.

Protection from threats

Independent candidate Jean Lassale recalled he was one of the first French politicians to have met with Syria’s President Bashar Assad. "It is a politician’s duty to do one’s utmost to see everything for oneself," he said.

The leader of the centrist movement En Marche! (On the Move) Emmanuel Macron agreed "it would be better if Trump coordinated his operation in Syria with the allies.

"Macron vowed to protect fellow citizens from the terrorist threat. He sees this as "number one duty of the president as the commander-in-chief." The official candidate of the ruling Socialist Party, Benoit Hamon does not share the demand for France’s walkout from NATO. "It’s time for unity," he believes.

Working class demands

The Champs Elysees drama by no means eased criticism of the authorities by candidates from the smaller parties. Economics teacher Nathalie Arthaud, of the left-wing party Workers’ Struggle, offered condolences to the families of the killed and injured police but at the same time said that she could not display solidarity with the authorities’ policies. "The working class world should unite on the basis of its own interests," said Arthaud. In particular, she demanded introducing "workers’ control of the industrial enterprises to safeguard the interests of working class people and preserve the environment." Also, she insisted on the nationalization of banks, which, she said "displayed irresponsibility during the global financial crisis of 2008."

The leader of the New Anti-Capitalist Party, car factory worker Philippe Poutou, criticized the current economic policies. He said capitalism was "a steamroller crushing everything on the way, including ecology." He urged a stop to the privatization of factories, a stop to using nuclear power and prevention of the use of chemicals in agriculture."

The candidate’s doyen, Jacques Cheminade, 75, the leader of the Solidarity and Progress party, is worried over France’s state debt, which exceeds 2,170 billion euros. Cheminade, a former trade adviser at France’s embassy in Washington, believes that "this debt cannot be repaid without ruining our future."

Absolute priority

Francois Fillon, the candidate of the center-right Republican Party, was the last to speak in the debate. He said he was certain about his victory. "I will win this election, because my candidature meets the requirements of the current situation," said Fillon, who in 2007-2012 led the Cabinet. "The struggle against terrorism is an absolute priority."

This struggle, said Fillon, requires an international coalition incorporating Russia. The Champs Elysees terrorist attack forced the leading candidates to revise their plans for the last day of the campaign before the first round of voting.

Macron canceled his visits to Rouen and Arras. Earlier, Fillon and Le Pen made similar decisions. "I believe that in the current situation it would be wrong to go ahead with electioneering. We must display solidarity with the police," Fillon said.

Who will enter the runoff?

All public opinion polls still look confusing. Two trends manifested themselves of late. The front-runners - Macron and Le Pen - were sliding down in the ratings, while Fillon and Melenchon were gaining strength.

Huffington Post examined a variety of polls conducted over the past month to arrive at the conclusion that Macron’s rating was going down somewhat more slowly than Le Pen’s. Macron may count on 23.3% of the votes, and Le Pen, on 22.3%. Fillon and Melenchon are closely behind with 19.7% and 19.6%.

Harris Interactive on Thursday published somewhat different statistics based on a poll of 962 respondents: Macron (24.5%), Le Pen (21%), Fillon (20%) and Melenchon (19%). Lastly, Elabe pollster late Thursday night said it had questioned 1,445 men and women to find out that the gap is somewhat narrower: Macron (24%), Le Pen (21.5%) Fillon (20%) and Melenchon (19.5%).

The daily La Croix says the confusing forecasts should not look surprising, though.

"The National Front’s climb has upset the previous bipolar "right-left" system. Les Echos’s columnist arrived at a similar conclusion: "The current election campaign in France looks different from all the previous ones."

Whatever the case, Thursday’s TV debates were the last for most of the 2017 election participants. Of the eleven seekers of France’s presidency only two will clash for the Elysee Palace in the May 7 runoff.

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