French election campaign rocked by violence as minister says more than 50 attacks made ahead of crunch vote

France’s election campaign has seen more than 50 violent attacks on candidates and activists, a senior government minister has warned, as the country braces for a crunch final round of voting.

Some 30,000 officers will be deployed to police the tense ballot on Sunday, including 5,000 in Paris, said interior minister Gerald Darminin – as France teeters on the brink of handing the far right its largest ever parliamentary victory.

Three polls in as many days have suggested Marine Le Pen and her protege Jordan Bardella’s National Rally is on course to win more seats than any other party – but also to fall short of the 289 required for an absolute majority.

Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella’s National Rally party won a third of the vote in last week’s ballot (AFP/Getty)
Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella’s National Rally party won a third of the vote in last week’s ballot (AFP/Getty)

However, that lead has been cut short after National Rally’s dominant performance in the first round of voting sparked immediate demands for a so-called “republican front” to block the advance of the far right.

To that end, some 221 candidates – including 83 from the centrist Ensemble alliance backing president Emmanuel Macron and 132 from the left-wing New Popular Front – have stepped down in recent days in order to mount a tactical defence against the far right in seats otherwise facing a three-way battle.

While Ms Le Pen has insisted a majority is still in reach as long as voters mobilise, three polls by Harris Interactive, Ifop and, most recently, on Friday, OpinionWay have put her party on between 190 and 240 seats – lower than before the republican front’s withdrawals.

Describing the mood of France as being “on edge”, Mr Darmanin warned that more than 30 people had been arrested for violence during the campaign.

“This campaign is short and yet we already have 51 candidates, substitutes and activists who have been physically assaulted,” the interior minister told broadcaster BFM TV, claiming that the attackers were either those who had “spontaneously become angry” or belonged to “ultra-left, ultra-right or other political groups”.

Police officers patrol the Trocadero plaza near the Eiffel Tower (AP)
Police officers patrol the Trocadero plaza near the Eiffel Tower (AP)

Among the victims are government spokesperson Prisca Thevenot, her deputy Virginie Lanlo, and an Ensemble activist who were attacked when they confronted a group defacing posters they had put up in the southwest of Paris.

Ms Thevenot told Le Parisien the activist suffered a broken jaw after being punched and hit with a scooter, while Ms Lanlo’s arm was injured. Three teenagers and a 20-year-old man were arrested.

Hours earlier, Ms Thevenot had warned of intensified racial attacks in a “complicated” political climate, saying: “The [attackers] no longer do it anonymously, but with uncovered faces and even with a certain pride.”

National Rally candidate Marie Dauchy also said she was violently attacked while campaigning near Grenoble, while the septuagenarian deputy mayor of a nearby town was also punched in the face while putting up a poster for former Macron spokesperson Olivier Veran.

Politicians across the spectrum have condemned the attacks which have marred the campaign, with France’s prime minister Gabriel Attal saying: “Let’s reject the climate of violence and hatred that is taking hold.”