French presidential frontrunner Emmanuel Macron has accused his rivals of using the killing of a police officer in a Paris terrorist attack to score political points ahead of Sunday’s first-round vote.
Xavier Jugelé, 37, was shot dead and two colleagues seriously injured when a known terror suspect opened fire on officers on the Champs Elysées, two days before voting begins in an already tense presidential election campaign.
Macron said far-right Front National leader Marine Le Pen, with whom he is running neck-and-neck in polling for the the first-round vote, and rightwing candidate François Fillon – currently in third place – were engaging in one-upmanship in their response to the attack. Campaigning for the first-round votes ends at midnight on Friday.
His remarks came in response to bullish statements from Le Pen and Fillon that once again spoke of France being “at war”.
Macron said it was important for everyone to call up a “spirit of responsibility in what is an extreme period” and to come up with a measured response to “a tragic event that has left our country in grief”.
“We must not give way to panic, nor in any way allow any attempt to manipulate these events,” Macron said at a press conference. “The terrorists want to destabilise the country ... at a time when the French are deciding on their future.”
Macron promised if elected he would create a presidential unit to “work around the clock” to tackle Isis. “Part of the combat we have to deal with is the identification and treatment of those in areas, cities, prisons who are becoming radicalised. A vigorous offensive will be taken to fight Islamic radicalisation, especially on the internet,” Macron said. “This is a moral challenge a challenge for civilisation.”
Earlier on Friday, Le Pen adopted a tough line against Islamic extremism branding it a “barbaric and monstrous totalitarian ideology”. She said France must engage in a “war against terrorism” and accused successive French governments of being too lax towards fundamentalists. She demanded the immediate expulsion of foreigners linked to Islamism and listed on the Fiche-S, the list of suspects considered a potential risk to national security.
She said those with joint nationality should be stripped of their French citizenship and expelled to their country of origin and those with French nationality “known for their support of an enemy ideology” be subject to “immediate administrative or criminal attention”.
“This war is asymmetric and revolutionary. It is a war in which all the population, all the country is targeted – it is obviously a war we cannot lose,” Le Pen told journalists. “The Islamist, Salafist ideology has no right to be in France and should be banned. Preachers of hate should be expelled and their mosques closed.”
Fillon, who like Le Pen and Macron, has cancelled planned end-of-campaign meetings on Friday in the run-up to the midnight deadline, said France must show it was “united and not afraid”.
“For several years I have been warning that we are confronting an Islamic totalitarianism: in other words, an ideology that is radical, organised and expansionist. I’ve not stopped warning the government and my compatriots about the breadth and depth of that totalitarianism whose goal is to destroy our civilisation and crush all enemies from south-east Asia right up to west Africa.”
Fillon pledged that if elected he would make the “destruction of Islamic State a priority”. He said: “From Raqqa to Paris, from Mosul to Magnanville, we are at war. There’s no alternative. It’s them or us.”
After an emergency meeting at the Elysée on Friday morning, the prime minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, said the French government was “entirely mobilised to ensure nothing disrupts” Sunday’s vote.
He also criticised Le Pen and Fillon’s reactions claiming they were “excessive and divisive”. He said Le Pen “seeks, after each drama to exploit it to manipulate and divide in order to shamelessly exploit the fear and emotion for exclusively political ends”.
Cazeneuve said: “We must not give in to fear, intimidation, manipulation and not fall into division and extremes ... tolerance must win, unity must prevail.”
Since Socialist president François Hollande declared a state of emergency after the November 2015 bombings and shootings in Paris, a force of about 50,000 police and gendarmes and 7,000 soldiers have been patrolling the country. On Sunday, they will be directed to ensure security at the 60,000 polling stations.