France, Armee de Terre soldiers patrol near the Eiffel Tower, Paris, 22 Novermber 2006, by Vania Teofilo

7,000 Soldiers Protecting French Elections from Terrorism

Some 50,000 police officers supported by 7,000 soldiers, including special forces, were deployed to the streets for security amid tensions following the attack claimed by the Islamic State terrorist group.

French law means that armed police and members of the armed forces cannot guard polling stations, The Express reported. Interior minister, Matthias Fekl, confirmed:

No armed security force can appear in or in the immediate vicinity of the polling stations. This is the democratic rule.

Polls are open across France in an election that is one of the closest watched in decades, with 11 candidates, ranging from the extreme right to the extreme left, vying for the French presidency.

Fears of further Islamic Terrorism Attacks

Tight security is in place after a terrorist attack in Paris on Thursday, just days before the voting. The shooting along the iconic Champs-Elysees in the heart of Paris left one police officer dead and several other people injured.

Police earlier arrested suspected Islamic terrorists in Marseilles and another man was arrested in Paris Saturday after threatening police with a knife.

French Voting Under State of Emergency

This is the first election to be held under a state of emergency called after the 2015 Paris attacks, and observers say last week’s shooting could bring out many voters who had otherwise planned to abstain.

In a tweet a day after the Champs Elysees shooting, U.S. President Donald Trump said, “The people of France will not take much more of this. Will have a big effect on presidential election!”

French intelligence has also warned of possible rioting after the results are announced Sunday, April 23, according to The Telegraph.

Islam and Immigration at Center of Election Debate

Despite predictions of low voter turnout, witnesses said lines formed at voting stations in Paris’ 15th arrondissement before opening hours and turnout was reported to be heavy at various polling stations across the country.

Currently leading in pre-election polls, according to The Telegraph, is Marine Le Pen, who wants to protect French culture and society, for example, by limiting immigration to France, especially from Muslim countries. She also wants the French people to have a referendum on whether to leave the European Union.

Runner-up is Emmanuel Macron, a center-left former economy minister who has close ties to unpopular Socialist President Francois Hollande. Another top contender is former Prime Minister, Francois Fillon, who favors cuts in public spending and pushing for deep reforms in the EU.

Analysts and voters interviewed see this as the most unpredictable election since World War II. One-third of voters were undecided days before the balloting.

Anger at the establishment is the sentiment driving voters in an election in which security, France’s lagging economy, its 10-percent unemployment rate, and Islamist extremism are issues on everyone’s minds.

The top two winners of Sunday’s poll will face off in a runoff election May 7th.

Polls close at 1800 UTC.

Source: Voice of America

Photo: France, Armee de Terre soldiers patrol near the Eiffel Tower, Paris, 22 November 2006, by Vania Teofilo.

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