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France Attack Leads To Increased Security Ahead of Weekend Election

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Security has been tightened across France, after a suspected terrorist attack killed a police officer ahead of the country’s presidential election on Sunday.

A gunman shot and killed a policeman and wounded two other officers in the attack Thursday night in Paris.

Officials say the gunman opened fire with an automatic weapon on a police vehicle on the city’s famous Champs-Elysees. The gunman then fled and was killed by police in a gun battle that injured the two officers. A German tourist was also injured.

Officials told the Associated Press the gunman was detained in February for threatening police, but was let go.

He was also reportedly convicted in the past of attempted murder in the shootings of two police officers.

Police secure the Champs Elysees Avenue after one policeman was killed and another wounded in a shooting incident in Paris, France, April 20, 2017.
Police secure the Champs Elysees Avenue after one policeman was killed and another wounded in a shooting incident in Paris, France, April 20, 2017.

French President Francois Hollande called the attack 'terrorist-related.'

The Islamic State (IS) terror group claimed that one of its 'fighters' had carried out the attack. But the group identified the gunman as a Belgian national, while French officials believe he was a French citizen.

The shooting was the latest in a series of attacks by Muslim extremists in France in recent years. The attacks have killed more than 230 people.

The Paris attack came as the presidential campaign was coming to an end, with voting in the first round set to begin Sunday.

President Hollande said the country’s security forces were committed to protecting the election process. 'We shall be of the utmost vigilance,' he said in a statement.

Issues in the presidential campaign

Terrorism and national security have been major issues throughout the presidential campaign. Candidates have also focused on France’s future in the European Union, a weakening economy and high unemployment.

Four candidates have emerged as the top contenders. The two receiving the most votes will advance to a runoff election to be held May 7.

One of the leading candidates is far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who has pushed anti-EU, anti-immigration measures. She said the Paris attack showed the current government is weak on national security. She promised to beat “Islamic terrorism.”

Far-right candidate for the presidential election Marine Le Pen speaks during a campaign meeting in Arcis-sur-Aube, near Troyes, France, April 11, 2017. Le Pen argues that Muslim immigration and economic globalization are destroying France's identity.
Far-right candidate for the presidential election Marine Le Pen speaks during a campaign meeting in Arcis-sur-Aube, near Troyes, France, April 11, 2017. Le Pen argues that Muslim immigration and economic globalization are destroying France's identity.

Le Pen, leader of the National Front party, urged the outgoing Socialist government to immediately re-establish border controls. French Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve accused her of trying to politicize the Paris attack.

Current opinion surveys show Le Pen is running a close second behind Emmanuel Macron, a former economy minister. He is seen as a centrist candidate, running without major party backing.

In a video posted after the attack, Macron said the French people must not give in to fear, division and intimidation.

He said the goal of terrorists was to “destabilize” the country. He added that it was the role of president and commander-in-chief to protect the French people from enemies and said, “I am ready.”

Independent centrist presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron poses with students of the Moliere school for a group photo in Les Mureaux, west of Paris, France, March 7, 2017.
Independent centrist presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron poses with students of the Moliere school for a group photo in Les Mureaux, west of Paris, France, March 7, 2017.

Macron has called for an increase in police and military forces to improve national security. He also wants to strengthen intelligence services and step up French military operations against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Conservative Francois Fillon and far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon each have about 20 percent support. A new opinion survey showed up to 30 percent of French voters were still undecided going into Sunday’s vote.

French conservative presidential candidate Francois Fillon gestures as he delivers his speech during a campaign meeting in Toulon, southern France, Friday, March, 31, 2017.
French conservative presidential candidate Francois Fillon gestures as he delivers his speech during a campaign meeting in Toulon, southern France, Friday, March, 31, 2017.

Fillon also spoke about the latest attack. He wants to continue a state of emergency put in place after a series of deadly attacks in November 2015. 'The fight for the French people's freedom and security will be mine. This must be a priority,' he said.

Melenchon is running for president for the second time after finishing in fourth place five years ago. He has promised to tax the rich and renegotiate France's role in EU and international trade agreements. He also wants to give more power to parliament and stop the use of nuclear power, the source of nearly 80 percent of France’s electricity.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on material from the Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse. Hai Do was the editor.

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Words in This Story

utmost adj. greatest or highest in degree

vigilance n. carefully watching for problems or signs of danger

runoffn. second or final election for the top candidates

intimidation n. intentional attempt to make someone afraid

emerge - v. to become known or regarded as something​

step up - phrasal verb. to increase in amount or speed​

priority n. something important to be dealt with before other things

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