Violent attacks shock country ahead of crucial vote

A growing number of candidates and activists in France are being targeted with physical and verbal attacks ahead of the final round of voting in a tense parliamentary election on Sunday.

Government spokesperson Prisca Thevenot was violently attacked by a group of young people in Meudon, southwest of Paris, while she was putting up election posters with her deputy spokesperson and a party activist.

Reflecting a febrile political atmosphere, other campaigners across France have also come under attack, with the far-right National Rally (RN) party the front-runner in the election.

The motive for the attack on Thévenot and his colleagues is unclear, but she returned to Meudon on Thursday with Prime Minister Gabriel Atal, who condemned the “attacks done with intolerable cowardice.”

Footage taken from a corner of an apartment building showed young people crowding around the candidate, his running mate Virginie Ranlot and party activists from President Emmanuel Macron’s Ensemble coalition.

Thévenot told Le Parisien’s website that he and his colleagues had protested against young people defacing party posters, “and they immediately attacked one of my activists and injured Virginie.” Ranlot sustained an injury to his arm, the activist was punched and hit with a scooter, breaking his jaw, and the scooter also smashed the windscreen of his car.

Three teenagers and a 20-year-old man were arrested by police and the incident was quickly condemned across the political spectrum.

Attal called on people to “reject the growing climate of violence and hatred”, and RN leader Jordan Bardella said one of his “major promises as prime minister” was “to tackle record insecurity and rising crime”.

Interior Minister Gerard Darmanin announced that 30,000 police officers would be deployed across France to prevent “far-left and far-right” from causing unrest during Sunday’s vote.

The BBC interviewed voters in a northern French constituency on Thursday who said they feared young people would become violent and express their anger at the political establishment, no matter who won.

Law and order is one of RN’s big priorities, along with tax cuts to address the immigration and cost of living crises.

RN candidates have also come under attack, with Marie Dorsey saying she was “violently assaulted” while campaigning in a market in La Rochette, near Grenoble in the southeast.

Conservative candidate Nicholas Konkel, who is allied with the RN, said he and a female colleague had been pelted with eggs, and last month another RN candidate was attacked while handing out pamphlets and was treated in hospital.

After winning 33.2% of the vote in the first round of general elections suddenly called by President Macron, Bardella’s party is now seeking an absolute majority in the 577-seat National Assembly.

But his political opponents have agreed to do everything in their power to prevent the far-right from winning enough seats to form a government.

In the first round of voting, 76 seats were won by candidates who received more than half of the local votes in their constituencies, including 39 RN candidates and their allies.

The remaining 501 seats will be decided in a runoff election, but 217 candidates who came third have withdrawn from the race to give their rivals a better chance of beating the RN. Of the 217 who withdrew, 130 were from the left-leaning New Popular Front and 81 from Macron’s coalition.

Marine Le Pen expressed her displeasure with the operation to secure “mass withdrawals” and condemned “those who seek to remain in power against the will of the people”.

But she said she still believes it’s possible to win an absolute majority if voters turn out in large numbers.

The latest Ifop poll predicts the RN will win between 210 and 240 seats, short of the 289 needed to form a government. This is lower than the 240-270 seat range the RN was projected to win after the first round of voting.

However, some in France’s minority are worried about what will happen if the RN comes to power.

The bill aims to give French citizens a “national preference” over immigrants in jobs and housing, as well as end the automatic right of children of foreign parents to French citizenship if they spend five years in France between the ages of 11 and 18.

Dual nationals would also be barred from dozens of highly sensitive jobs.

One Muslim woman living in an area that voted 54% for the RN last Sunday told the BBC that the party has been gaining strength with every election.

On the eve of France meeting Portugal in the quarter-finals of the European Championships in Germany, France captain Kylian Mbappe called on voters to “make the right choice”.

After the “disastrous” results of the first round of voting on Sunday, the president said “we cannot leave the country in the hands of those people,” but did not specify who they were.

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