The Latest: French campaigns halt prior to presidential vote

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Posted: Apr 22, 2017 3:58 PM
The Latest: French campaigns halt prior to presidential vote

PARIS (AP) — The Latest on France's presidential race (all times local):

9 p.m.

The final hours of many election campaigns are frantic affairs, dominated by last-minute pitches, late-breaking polls and massive social media campaigns. Not so in France — even amid a presidential campaign.

Rules dating back more than half a century impose a 44-hour time out ahead of the polls' closure Sunday, meaning that politicians, journalists and even ordinary citizens are supposed to refrain from broadcasting anything about the French presidential election.

The Twitter feeds of France's 11 candidates went quiet after midnight Friday.

The national time out lasts until 8 p.m. Sunday. It's intended to give voters time to reflect on their choice free from media distractions.

Sunday's first-round presidential ballot is the most nail-biting French election in generations. The government has mobilized more than 50,000 police and gendarmes to protect 70,000 polling stations, with an additional 7,000 soldiers on patrol.

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11 a.m.

Polling stations have opened in France's far-flung overseas territories for the country's unpredictable presidential election as the 11 candidates in the race observed a ban on campaigning.

France's 10 percent unemployment and its lackluster economy top voters' concerns as first-round ballots are cast this weekend in the most nail-biting French election in generations. Voting began overseas on Saturday but is taking place Sunday on the French mainland.

Concerned about security, the government has mobilized more than 50,000 police and gendarmes to protect 70,000 polling stations, with an additional 7,000 soldiers on patrol.

Opinion polls showed a tight race among the four top contenders vying to get into the May presidential 7 runoff that will decide who becomes France's next head of state. But the polls also showed that decision was largely in the hands of the one-in-three voters who are still undecided.

10 a.m.

A deadly attack on police Thursday night on Paris' famed Champs-Elysees Avenue has clouded the last days of campaigning in France's key presidential race.

Security is a prominent issue after a wave of extremist attacks on French soil, including the gunman who killed a Paris police officer Thursday before being shot dead by security forces. The gunman carried a note praising the Islamic State group.

Political campaigning was banned Saturday and Sunday until the polls close across France at 8 p.m. Sunday.

Polling centers opened in the Atlantic Ocean territories of Saint Pierre and Miquelon as well as French Guiana in South America, the Caribbean's Guadeloupe and elsewhere. Voters abroad could also cast ballots in French embassies.

Polls suggested that far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron, an independent centrist and former economy minister, were in the lead. However, conservative Francois Fillon and far-leftist candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon appeared to be closing the gap.

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9 a.m.

Well-wishers are paying their respects at the site of the shooting on the Champs-Elysees Avenue in Paris.

The site Saturday was adorned with flowers, candles and messages of solidarity for the slain police officer, Xavier Jugele. Across from the Eiffel Tower, women from the group Angry Wives of Law Enforcement demonstrated later in the day against violence aimed at police.

Some believed French stoicism would prevent a lurch to the right in the presidential vote.

Marise Moron, a retired doctor, says "Terrorism is now an everyday occurrence. It's permanent, 24 hours a day. So we're not afraid. If we're believers in freedom, we must live with it."

"I'm not going to let myself be influenced by people who are trying to frighten us," Paris resident Anne-Marie Redouin said near the heavily-guarded Eiffel Tower.

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8 a.m.

When the French vote for president Sunday, their choice will resonate far beyond France's borders, from Syrian battlefields to Hong Kong trading floors and the halls of the U.N. Security Council.

The election is also widely being viewed as a ballot on the future of the 28-nation European Union. The far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and the far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon could pull France out of the EU and its shared euro currency — a so-called "Frexit."

A French exit could ignite a death spiral for the EU, the euro and the whole idea of European unity that was borne out of the bloodshed of World War II.

Centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron and conservative candidate Francois Fillon are committed to European unity and would reform labor rules.

Many French workers who have lost out by globalization are fed up with establishment parties and attracted by promises of ditching the status quo.

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David Keyton, Nadine Achoui-Lesage, Raphael Satter and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report