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Le Pen fishes for worker support as polls narrow in French presidential vote

News 27 Apr 2017

left right Emmanuel Macron, head of the political movement En Marche !, or Onwards !, and candidate for the 2017 presidential election, leaves his home in Paris, France, April 27, 2017. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer 1/5 left right Marine Le Pen (C), French National Front (FN) political party candidate for French 2017 presidential election, waves to supporters as she leaves after an excursion on a fishing boat during a campaign visit to the port in Grau-du-Roi, France, April 27, 2017. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier 2/5 left right Marine Le Pen (C), French National Front (FN) political party candidate for French 2017 presidential election, leaves a fishing boat after a campaign visit to the port in Grau-du-Roi, France, April 27, 2017. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier 3/5 left right Emmanuel Macron, head of the political movement En Marche !, or Onwards !, and candidate for the 2017 presidential election, attends a campaign rally in Arras, France, April 26, 2017. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier 4/5 left right The poster with a new second round campaign slogan 'Choose France' for Marine Le Pen, French National Front (FN) political party candidate for French 2017 presidential election is presented during a news conference in Paris, France, April 26, 2017. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann 5/5 By Brian Love and Jean-Paul PELISSIER | PARIS/LE GRAU DU ROI

PARIS/LE GRAU DU ROI Marine Le Pen took to the sea on Thursday, promising to protect fishing jobs if she beats Emmanuel Macron, her pro-EU, centrist rival whose commanding poll lead has narrowed.

As runner-up in last Sunday's opening ballot, Le Pen remains the underdog, but two polls suggested she had made a more impressive start to the last lap of campaigning than Macron.

A daily Opinionway poll saw Macron's predicted score dipping to 59 percent for the first time since mid-March. An Elabe survey showed one out of two people considered Le Pen's last-leg campaign had begun well, while only 43 percent said the same of Macron's.

Dressed in fishermen's yellow oilskins, Le Pen, 48, grappled with a freshly caught octopus on a fishing boat out at sea. She told reporters on the quayside she would defend seafarers and all endangered sectors against invasive EU regulations.

"Let me warn you, that man (Macron) will destroy our entire social and economic structure," she told a horde of journalists at Le Grau du Roi, a port west of Marseille.

Macron, a 39-year-old who did a stint as a minister in the outgoing Socialist government before breaking away to launch his own political movement, mocked her photo opportunity.

"Madame Le Pen has gone fishing. Enjoy the outing. The exit from Europe that she is proposing will spell the end of French fisheries," he tweeted.

As the final, May 7, vote approaches, the candidates have plenty of scope, but little time, to pick up support. In the first round they won less than half of the votes between them and have fewer than 10 days to convince the other 55 percent.

FAR LEFT FACTOR

One group that could be key is the 20 percent who chose far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon in round one. While the other main candidates have said they would vote for Macron to block the far right, Melenchon has declined to give his view.

His "France Unbowed" campaign had a similar anti-globalisation, pro-worker protection message to Le Pen's, but is sharply opposed to her position that immigration and radical Islam are at the roots of France's problems.

Melenchon's campaign has launched a survey of its own 430,000 members to see if they will vote for Macron or abstain. Voting for Le Pen was not an option. The results are due on Tuesday.

In Paris and the western city of Rennes on Thursday riot police clashed with youths demonstrating against both candidates. Students have been holding "neither Le Pen, neither Macron" protests at high schools since Sunday's vote.

Campaigning took a spectacular turn on Wednesday when Le Pen paid a surprise visit to a doomed tumble-drier plant in her opponent's home town and promised to save it, just as Macron was meeting labour representatives behind closed doors nearby.

She posed for selfies with workers at the Whirlpool site as he was trying to explain to their representatives that the company's decision to relocate production to Poland was not something the French state could block.

Macron later went to the site himself and, although he held his ground and the tension eventually eased, television channels repeatedly broadcast footage of him being heckled.

Foreign policy also entered the election debate on Thursday as a top aide to Le Pen questioned a French intelligence report accusing Syria's leadership of a toxic gas attack.

(Reporting by Leigh Thomas and Matthias Blamont; Editing by Andrew Callus and Robin Pomeroy)

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