French candidates head into final week of campaigns dominated by Ukraine war

By Rafael Cañas

Paris, Apr 4 (EFE).- The campaign for the first round of the French presidential elections entered its decisive week Monday, with the debate largely dominated by the war in Ukraine after harrowing images of alleged civilian killings by Russian soldiers in Bucha emerged.

Incumbent Emmanuel Macron, who is a heavy favorite to secure a new term, was quick to call for more international sanctions against Russia, in particular a European embargo on Russian coal and oil.

“There are very clear signs of war crimes,” he said during an interview with radio station France Inter, in which he called for European consensus on new sanctions “in the next few days.”

Asked expressly about whether Russian president Vladimir Putin should be held personally accountable for these massacres, Macron stressed that “those who have been at the origin of these crimes will have to answer”, because “there will be no peace without justice”, without explicitly naming Putin.

His main opponent, far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, whose campaign leaflet featured a photo of her shaking hands with the Russian leader, said that what happened in Bucha “is clearly a war crime”.

In a televised statement with the news channel BFMTV, Le Pen also avoided blaming Putin directly and pointed out that an international investigation to be carried out by the United Nations should decide on how to mete out justice for those alleged crimes.

With very few days left to canvas for votes, the Elysée Palace hopefuls are playing their last cards to improve their position in the polls.

Macron’s campaign announced that he will travel Tuesday to Spézet, a small town of just over 1,700 inhabitants, as part of his strategy of making a few short trips to sparsely populated areas.

The far-right Éric Zemmour, who is even more extreme than Le Pen, said on France Info radio station that if he becomes president he will expel from the country one million foreigners without papers or who have committed crimes.

The leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon received the support of more than 40 artists who signed a manifesto in favor of a leftist candidate in the second round, which will be held on April 24.

Conservative Valérie Pécresse on RTL radio highlighted the importance of a “strong Republican right” against the far-right on the one hand and Macron on the other.

The most recent poll by the Ifop demoscopic institute, released on Monday, has Macron as the favorite in Sunday’s election, with 27.5 % of the vote, followed by Le Pen (22 %) and Mélenchon (15.5%).

Zemmour is projected to win 10 %, while the candidates of the two large traditional parties are also lagging, with conservative Pécresse expected to win a 10 % share of the vote, and socialist Anne Hidalgo just 2 %.

Abstention is expected to stand at 28.5 %, a similar rate to the last presidential election in 2017, but well below the record figure of last year’s regional elections of 65.7 %.EFE


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