French President Emmanuel Macron has warned that a measure proposed by his rival Marine Le Pen to ban the wearing of Islamic headscarves in French public places would create a “civil war” if implemented.
In a televised debate on Wednesday ahead of Sunday’s presidential election, the far-right presidential candidate said she was fighting radical Islam, not Muslims.
“I say it in a very clear way: I think the hijab is an official dress imposed by Islamists,” Le Pen said. “I think a large percentage of young women who wear it actually have no other choice.”
“What you are saying is very dangerous,” Macron said. “You will create a civil war if you do that.”
Macron said France would be “the first country in the world to ban religious performances in public places”.
This is an urgent news update. The previous story for the Associated Press follows below.
Paris (AFP) – French President Emmanuel Macron tore down his far-right rival Marine Le Pen on Wednesday over her ties to Russia, using a television debate to determine her suitability to lead the country and deal with Moscow as he searches for votes. He needs to win another 5-year term.
In their only face-to-face confrontation before voters had their say in Sunday’s winner’s vote, Macron sought to portray his opponent as fundamentally untrustworthy, accusing her of dishonesty and using false figures in her election promises.
In turn, it has sought to attract voters suffering from rising prices amid the fallout from the Russian war in Ukraine. Le Pen said lowering the cost of living would be her priority if she was elected as France’s first female president, and she portrays herself as the candidate for voters unable to make ends meet.
The controversy has led to a resurgence of the escalating gap in politics and personality between the two candidates once again vying for the presidency, five years after Macron easily defeated Le Pen in 2017.
Opinion polls show Macron, a pro-European centrist, increasingly and significantly ahead of Le Pen, an anti-immigration nationalist, ahead of Sunday’s vote. But the result is expected to be closer than five years, and the two candidates are vying to vote among voters who did not support them in the first round of elections on April 10.
“I’m not like you,” Le Pen said as they wrestled over France’s energy needs.
“You are not like me,” Macron said. “Thanks for the reminder.”
The French leader has been particularly scathing in his criticism of a loan that Le Pen’s party took in 2014 from a Russian-Czech bank. He said the debt meant that if elected president, Le Pen’s hands would be tied when dealing with the Kremlin.
“You talk to your banker when you talk about Russia, that’s the problem,” Macron said at the evening debate, which was expected to be watched by millions.
“You made a choice that was, obviously, a limitation on your political status and does not make you independent on this issue. Macron said.
Le Pen was alarmed by Macron’s suggestion that she was beholden to Russia. She described herself as “totally free”. She said her party was repaying the loan and called it “dishonest” for raising the issue.
Hours before Wednesday’s debate, imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny took part in the French presidential campaignHe urged voters to support Macron and claimed Le Pen was closely linked to Russia.
Macron came out ahead in the first round on April 10. But Le Pen, who made gains this year by exploiting the anger over inflationThe gap in popular support narrowed dramatically compared to 2017, when it lost 34% of the vote to Macron’s 66%.
Both candidates had carefully prepared for Wednesday’s debate. But Le Pen got off to an inauspicious start: After being chosen to speak first, she began speaking before the debate’s opening song finished playing. Inaudible because of the music, she had to stop and start over. I apologized.
As soon as the duel began, Macron quickly put Le Pen on the defensive. Focus on her electoral record as a lawmaker and question her understanding of economic numbers.
In 2017, a similar debate dealt a fatal blow to her campaign.
Both candidates need to broaden support before Sunday’s vote. Many French, especially on the left, say they still don’t know whether or not to go to the polls.
Follow AP’s coverage of the French election at https://apnews.com/hub/french-election-2022
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