By Brian Love and Jean-Paul PELISSIER
| PARIS/LE GRAU DU ROI, France,
PARIS/LE GRAU DU ROI, France, France's presidential candidates battled for the popular vote on Thursday with far-right Marine Le Pen wooing fishermen and Emmanuel Macron playing soccer as polls showed the centrist's commanding lead narrow marginally.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 economy 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.Macron took his campaign to Sarcelles, a poor Parisian suburb with a large community of North African and sub-Saharan African descent where more than one in three young people are out of work, double the national average.In stark contrast to Wednesday, when he was heckled by factory workers in northern France, the ex-banker was greeted to cheers and kicked a football around with youngsters.
He hit back at Le Pen's attempts to portray herself as the woman of the people, accusing the trained lawyer, who was born and raised in a wealthy Paris suburb, of hypocrisy, making false promises and continuing the "xenophobic" policies of her father Jean-Marie Le Pen."She is lying to you," Macron said in the town, where the majority voted for the far-left in last week's first round."France is not the vicious and repressive face that Mrs Le Pen carries. I will not let her trivialise what the National Front is, which is a xenophobic party."FAR-LEFT FACTOR
As the final vote on May 7 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.One group that will 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, nor Macron" protests at high schools since Sunday's vote.In an interview with Reuters, Christian Estrosi, the right-wing president of the southeastern region, said it was a mistake to take Le Pen's victory chances lightly. "She can win. In my political family, some are wrong to neglect the risk and not to take the second round more seriously," he said. "It is not the blank vote that will be president on May 7."Campaigning took a spectacular turn on Wednesday when Le Pen paid a surprise visit to a doomed Whirlpool appliance 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 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, Matthias Blamont, Emmanuel Jarry, and Ingrid Melander in Nice; writing by John Irish; Editing by Andrew Callus and Tom Heneghan)
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Updated Date: Apr 27, 2017 23:33 PM