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story.lead_photo.caption A worker prepares a polling booth in Paris ahead of the fi rst round of presidential voting in France that takes place Sunday. - Photo by AP / THIBAULT CAMUS

PARIS -- A deadly shootout on Paris' best-known boulevard darkened the final day of campaigning Friday in France's presidential election, and U.S. President Donald Trump predicted that the attack would help shape the outcome of voting Sunday.

Trump did not elaborate on how the latest apparent Islamist-linked violence could sway the vote, but far-right candidate Marine Le Pen has raised many of the same anti-immigrant and security issues that were pushed by Trump during his campaign.

"Another terrorist attack in Paris," Trump wrote in a Twitter post. "The people of France will not take much more of this. Will have a big effect on presidential election!"

While Trump didn't mention Le Pen by name in the tweet, he did in an interview later in the day with The Associated Press. Trump said the attack on Thursday will "probably help" Le Pen because she is "strongest on borders and she's the strongest on what's been going on in France."

Trump added that his comments weren't meant as an explicit endorsement of Le Pen in the first round of voting Sunday in the French presidential election. He said he isn't worried about emboldening terrorists by predicting a political impact.

The French election has become a critical test of strength for Le Pen and her National Front party at a time when nationalism has cast a shadow upon other votes in the West, including Trump's victory and last year's British referendum on leaving the European Union.

Le Pen's opponents, meanwhile, have urged France to stand against the hard-line rhetoric that has dominated her campaign.

Despite a promise not to campaign after Thursday's attack on police on the renowned Champs-Elysees, Le Pen reinforced her message in a speech Friday, calling on the French government to immediately reinstate border checks and expel foreigners being monitored by the intelligence services.

"My government of national unity will implement this policy so that the republic will live and that France will live," she said in an impromptu news conference.

Campaigning is banned starting Friday at midnight.

Despite some early calls to postpone Sunday's first round of voting to elect a new president, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told reporters Friday morning that "nothing should hinder this fundamental democratic moment for our country." He pledged heightened security as French voters go to the polls, including deployments of heavily armed soldiers from France's Operation Sentinelle, which targets terrorist threats.

It was not immediately clear whether the timing of Thursday's attack was linked to the election. But it appeared to have that effect in the public's mind -- coming as the 11 candidates were speaking in a televised debate event before a reported audience of millions.

One police officer was killed and two others were seriously injured when a gunman opened fire with a Kalashnikov assault rifle on a police patrol parked on the avenue, sending pedestrians fleeing into side streets. The Islamic State extremist group claimed responsibility.

As the candidates vowed to suspend campaign events to honor the fallen officer, analysts were quick to say that the shooting, in a country that has suffered a string of devastating terrorist attacks in the past two years, was particularly advantageous for rightist, anti-immigrant presidential contenders -- especially Le Pen, who has been sharply critical of what she calls "Islamist terrorism" for weeks.

The attack could weigh heavily on voters' minds as they prepare to go to the polls Sunday for the first round of the presidential election, analysts said.

"Now there is a structuring thematic, and that thematic is terrorism," said Francois Heisbourg, a defense expert and former French presidential adviser on national security. "But if terrorism will now be at the front of everyone's mind, we have no idea how that plays."

The candidates, especially on the right, wasted no time in emphasizing the gravity of the issue.

Echoing Le Pen, Francois Fillon, the embattled contender from France's more mainstream conservative party, said Friday that the fight against "Islamist totalitarianism" should be "the priority of the next government."

By contrast, Emmanuel Macron, the popular independent candidate vying for the presidency, however, was quick to argue against any fearmongering.

"We must not yield to fear today," he said Thursday. "This is what our assailants are waiting for, and it's their trap."

It remains unclear what kind of effect the Champs-Elysees attack could have on French voters. Similar incidents in the past have led to both the embrace and rejection of right-wing agendas.

Information for this article was contributed by Souad Mekhennet, Michael Birnbaum, Brian Murphy and William Branigin of The Washington Post; and by Margaret Talev of Bloomberg News.

A Section on 04/22/2017

Print Headline: Attack adds to French election's factors

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