Crowds danced on a Paris plaza as Socialist presidential candidate Benoit Hamon held what was seen as a last-chance rally and concert. Mr Hamon is polling in a distant fifth place ahead of Sunday’s first-round election and has little chance of reaching the decisive May 7 run-off – a failure that could crush his party.
French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, who has dominated the campaign with her anti-immigration, anti-EU proposals, is appealing to her electoral base in the hopes of maintaining a shot at the run-off.
She assailed recent governments for failing to stop extremist attacks in recent years and warned on BFM television that “we are all targets. All the French”. The candidates have increased security in recent days. Authorities announced on Tuesday that they had arrested two Islamic radicals suspected of plotting a possible attack around the vote.
Independent centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron reached out to the French Muslim community, saying it is fighting on a “common front” alongside the state against Islamic extremism. Mr Macron met with the head of leading French Muslim group CFCM, Anouar Kbibech.
In a statement afterwards, Mr Macron insisted on the importance of respecting France’s secular traditions but said they should not be used to target Muslims.
Some Muslims feel unfairly targeted by French laws banning headscarves in schools and full-face veils in public. The Grand Mosque of Lyon issued an appeal urging Muslims to cast ballots instead of isolating themselves, “so that all the children of France, regardless of their skin colour, their origins or their religion, are fully involved in the future of their country”.
Ms Le Pen also defended her decision to force national news network TF1 to take down the European flag during an interview on Tuesday night. She said on Wednesday that “I am a candidate in the election for the French republic” and that Europe is acting like France’s “enemy”.
Ms Le Pen, who accuses the EU of taking away France’s sovereignty and hurting its economy, wants to pull France out of the EU and the euro – which could devastate the bloc and badly disrupt financial markets.