Presidential election: France to decide fate of 11 candidates on Sunday

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French overseas territories and residents in some U.S. states, including Hawaii, began voting on Saturday in the French presidential election, a day ahead of a main first-round vote that could change the global political landscape.

Marine Le Pen is the far right Front National candidate who wants a referendum on European Union membership, a clampdown on immigration and the expulsion of potentially hundreds of French citizens suspected of terrorist tendencies.

Many French Jews are deeply anxious about the rise in the polls of Le Pen and the National Front, which advocates pulling out of the European Union, stopping immigration from Muslim countries and imposing limitations on religious freedoms, as well as harsh punishments for violence and incitement.

"This war against us is ceaseless and merciless", she said, accusing the Socialist government of a "cowardly" response to the threat.

French authorities, including the domestic security service, began a counterterrorism investigation into Cheurfi last month after learning of his increasing determination to establish communication with an ISIS fighter in Syria and Iraq, a source close to the investigation told CNN Friday.

"The election of either Le Pen or Melenchon would put Paris on a fast-track collision course with (EU officials in) Brussels", said James Shields, professor of French politics at Aston University in Britain. Although Le Pen's rhetoric tends to go a bit farther than President Trump's, the similarities between the two are staggering, leading some to refer to Le Pen as "France's Trump".

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Benoit Hamon is the mainstream left-wing Socialist Party nominee but polls suggest he has struggled to gain traction.

France's 10 per cent unemployment and its lacklustre economy are top voters' concerns as first-round ballots are cast this weekend in the most nail-biting French election in generations.

Fillon and Macron also hastily convened televised briefings in which they vowed to protect the country.

Macron, 39, of En Marche party appealed to voters not to succumb to fear.

In other USA cities and in Canada, voting took place at French consular offices.

Veteran left-winger Melenchon, 65, was the only one of the four to stick to his schedule.

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It's unclear if Trump's endorsement will help or hurt Le Pen at this stage in the campaign.

Although Le Pen is in second place behind Macron in the first round, she is seen by pollsters as unlikely to win in the second. Some 20-30 percent might not vote and about 30 percent of those who plan to show up at the polling stations are unsure whom to vote for.

A clearer picture, meanwhile, has emerged of the violent past of the gunman in the Champs Elysees shooting.

One police officer was killed and two others injured in the today's shooting. Macron did too, but also accused his rivals of trying to capitalize on the attack with their anti-immigration, tough-on-security messages.

He had spent 15 years in prison and was released in October, 2015. He had shown "no signs of radicalization" while in custody, said France's anti-terrorism prosecutor Francois Molins. The Saturday march comes just two days after the.

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