The final hours of campaigning for the French presidential elections have been overshadowed by the shooting of police in central Paris. A tightly-contested first round is expected among the four main candidates.
Many voters remain undecided, according to the final opinion polls, as the presidential campaign came to an official end at midnight on Friday, ahead of Sunday's first-round vote.
An Elabe poll for BFM TV and L’Express published Friday showed centrist Emmanuel Macron would win 24 percent of the vote in Sunday's election with extreme-right candidate Marine Le Pen on 21.5 percent.
Conservative candidate François Fillon was close behind Le Pen on 20 percent with far-left alliance leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon on 19.5 percent.
The 39-year-old Macron would win a second round with 65 percent of the vote to the 48-year-old Le Pen’s 35 percent, according to the survey. If Mélenchon reaches the second round, he would beat both Le Pen and Fillon by comfortable margins but lose to Macron, according to the poll.
Up to 25 percent of voters have yet to make up their minds according to the Elabe poll. Other polls have indicated the undecided share of voters to be as high as 40 percent.
The Elabe poll was carried out on Wednesday and Thursday, before the gun attack in central Paris which left one police officer dead and two others injured.
An Odoxa poll also published on Friday showed Macron with 24.5 percent, Le Pen on 23 percent, followed by Fillon and Melenchon both on 19 percent.
The leading candidates issued statements on Friday but cancelled planned events because of Thursday night's shooting.
Le Pen was quick to link terrorism to immigration, calling for all those with joint nationality who were officially listed as security risks be stripped of their French citizenship and expelled to their country of origin.
Le Pen told journalists: "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." She added: "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."
Macron was more measured in his response to the shooting, saying "We must not give way to panic, nor in any way allow any attempt to manipulate these events," he said at a press conference. "The terrorists want to destabilise the country … at a time when the French are deciding on their future."
On security, Macron added "A vigorous offensive will be taken to fight Islamic radicalisation, especially on the internet," he said. "This is a moral challenge, a challenge for civilisation."
Conservative candidate, Francois Fillon, whose campaign has been hit by a series of allegations over financial irregularities said France must show it was united. "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 said on Friday.
Fillon was also under fire for comments he made during the last televised debate when he suggested a female journalist had not understood his program because she had been absent on maternity leave:
French news reports named the gunman who died in Thursday's attack as Karim Cheurfi, a 39-year-old French citizen with a history of violent crime who had served time in prison. He was known to French counter-terrorism services.
France has been under a state of emergency, giving police special powers, since the attacks on the Bataclan music venue in November 2015. More than 230 people have been killed in terror attacks, primarily in Paris and Nice, since January 2015.
The French prime minister, Bernard Cazeneuve said on Friday more than 50,000 police and gendarmes and 7,000 soldiers would be on duty for Sunday’s first-round vote and nothing could be allowed to "hamper this democratic moment."
US presidential backing
Both Macron and Le Pen received messages of support from the US.
President Donald Trump commented on Thursday's attack, saying in a Tweet it would have a "big effect" on the election as he praised the National Front (FN) leader Le Pen in an interview at the White House with the AP news agency: "She's the strongest on borders, and she's the strongest on what's been going on in France," Trump said in the Oval Office interview. "Whoever is the toughest on radical Islamic terrorism, and whoever is the toughest at the borders, will do well in the election."
Le Pen was seen at Trump Tower in New York in January although Trump's team made it clear that no meetings were scheduled.
Barack Obama spoke to Macron on Thursday about the "important upcoming presidential election in France," a spokesman for the former US president said. Macron's team released a video recording of the call, in an unusual move as conversations of this kind are normally kept private.
jm/bw (AFP, Reuters)