French PM, far-right chief clash in election debate exposing fierce tensions

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal and the chief of the main far-right party Jordan Bardella clashed in an ill-tempered debate Tuesday that exposed fierce tensions less than a week ahead of the most polarising election in decades.

Attal, Bardella and hard-left MP Manuel Bompard, representing the left-wing coalition, exchanged accusations in a sometimes bruising live TV encounter where discussion of issues was often drowned by a cacophony of voices.

Bardella's National Rally (RN) still has a clear lead in opinion polls ahead of Sunday's first round of voting in the parliamentary elections, followed by the left-wing New Popular Front (NFP) coalition with President Emmanuel Macron's centrist alliance lagging in third.

At just 28, Bardella could become the first far-right prime minister in France's modern history after the second round on July 7, although he has said he will only take the job if the RN wins an absolute majority in parliament.

Bardella vowed that "if the French give me their confidence I will be the prime minister of purchasing power", pledging cuts to VAT and tax breaks for the under 30s.

"I am prime minister. The difference with me is that I do not want to lie to the French," retorted Attal.

"Jordan Bardella says every time that he will reduce VAT as if by magic but without saying how he will finance it," he added.

Bompard meanwhile told the premier "you are badly placed to give lessons on the economy, given your record."

'Be humble'


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