(French presidential race) Paris pledges to protect tight contest

World | 21 Apr 2017 11:28 pm

The French government pulled out all the stops to protect Sunday's vote featuring 11 candidates in a tight race as the attack in Paris deepened the political divide. 

In the first round, populist Marine Le Pen and maverick centrist Emmanuelle Macron have emerged neck-and-neck according to polls. Behind them are right-winger Francois Fillon and leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

"Nothing must hamper this democratic moment, essential for our country,'' Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said after a high-level meeting today that reviewed the government's already heightened security plans for the two-round presidential vote that begins Sunday. 

"Barbarity and cowardice struck Paris last night,'' the prime minister declared, appealing for national unity and for people "not to succumb to fear.'' 

The  Champs Élysées  gunman who shot and killed a police officer just days before France's presidential election was detained in February for threatening police but then freed, two officials told The Associated Press. He was also convicted in 2003 of attempted homicide in the shootings of two police officers. 

Investigators believe at this stage that the gunman, 39-year-old Frenchman Karim Cheurfi, was alone in killing one police officer and wounding two others and a female German tourist on Thursday night, a French official who discussed details of the investigation with the AP said on condition of anonymity. 

The attack came less than 72 hours before the polls open. 

Police shot and killed Cheurfi after he opened fire on a police van on Paris' most famous boulevard. Investigators found a pump-action shotgun and knives in his car. Cheurfi's identity was confirmed from his fingerprints. 

Cheurfi had been detained toward the end of February after speaking threateningly about police but was then released for lack of evidence, according to that French official and another, who also spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to publicly discuss the probe. 

The policeman killed Thursday was identified as Xavier Jugele by Flag!, a French association of LGBT police officers. Its president, Mickael Bucheron, told AP the slain officer would have celebrated his 38th birthday at the beginning of May. 

Jugele was among the officers who responded to the gun-and-bomb attack on Paris' Bataclan concert hall on November 13, 2015, among a wave of assaults in the French capital that killed 130 people, he told People.com . 

He was also there a year later when the venue reopened with a concert by Sting, saying how happy he was to be "here to defend our civic values.''-AP/The Standard


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