French presidential debate dominated by Islam and Burkini row

Politician Jean Luc Melenchon of the French far-left Parti de Gauche and candidate for the 2017 French presidential election
Politician Jean Luc Melenchon of the French far-left Parti de Gauche and candidate for the 2017 French presidential election
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22 March, 2017

Opposition leader Saleh Kebzabo in a statement said that his party, the Union Nationale pour le Développement et le Renouveau (National Union for Development and Renewal, UNDR), "categorically opposes the visit of Marine Le Pen, racist and xenophobic candidate of the extreme right in the presidential election in France".

While polls show Macron and Le Pen establishing a clear lead in the first round, conservative candidate Francois Fillon, the one-time front-runner, has fallen back, damaged by a scandal surrounding the employment of his wife as a parliamentary assistant.

Supporters of Mr. Macron, who styles himself as a progressive transcending France's entrenched left-right divide, are among the most volatile while Ms. Le Pen's are the most loyal, polls show.

France also lags well behind in economic growth.

Ms Le Pen said she would put a near-total stop to immigration to France, claiming 200,000 "illegal immigrants" were arriving in France each year.

"That's called Project Fear, Mr Fillon".

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Given that he was expected to be the main punchbag the En Marche candidate will just be happy to emerge fairly unscathed.

But the scandal, which has dominated the campaign for weeks, occupied relatively little time in the debate.

"Marine Le Pen has arrived in N'Djamena and is continuing to Amdjarass about 900 kilometres to the east where she will be received this afternoon at her initiative by President Deby", a spokesman for the Chadian president said. But the French working class, a once ardently far-left voting block, have come to see her as the only candidate committed to curbing immigration and rebuilding the country's struggling economy. Six smaller candidates were excluded from Monday's debate.

The meeting in Berlin was a coup for Macron and a sign that the Germans now see him as the candidate with the best chance to beat Le Pen.

"I completely disagree with Emmanuel Macron who praised the German chancellor when he was in Berlin for (refugee) policies that turned out to be bad policies and which are now criticised by her own allies in Germany", Fillon said in a slap at his centrist rival.

Fillon rejected that decision by broadcasters TF1 et LCI, saying in his opening remarks " We are 11 candidates, here there are only five, it's a question of democracy. UBS doesn't have an official view on whether Macron or Fillon will become the next president, according to Tan Teck Leng, a foreign-exchange analyst at its wealth management unit.


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