By John Keating
PARIS, April 21 (KUNA) -- Unprecedented security measures, with tens of thousands of police and military personnel on duty, will be deployed to prevent any disruptions to the first round of French presidential elections on April 23.
Some 46 million French voters will be called to the polls to select the top two contenders from 11 candidates and the leading two in the vote will then move on to a two-horse run-off vote on May 7.
The multitude of candidates, combined with an ongoing optimum terror threat, has complicated not only the election process on April 23 and May 7, but also the need for security for the candidates themselves.
Security has jumped to the forefront of the election debate after the shooting on the Champs Elysee on Thursday night that left one policeman and the gunman dead, while two other police officers and a pedestrian were injured.
So-called Islamic State (IS) was quick to claim that attack but the claim is still being authenticated.
The terror threat was also underlined last Tuesday with the arrest of two individuals in the southern city of Marseille, in possession of three kilos of explosives, a submachine gun, two pistols and a variety of bomb-making equipment. The two men, both French nationals and born here, were radicalised in prison and had pledged allegiance to so-called Islamic State, whose flag was displayed in their apartment, but hierarchical links with the terror group in Syria and Iraq are still to be firmly established.
Nonetheless, the men aged 23 and 29 and both with criminal records, had planned "an imminent and very violent" attack, whose target has not yet been determined, according to French Prosecutor Francois Molins.
It is suspected that an attack on one or more of France's 11 candidates was potentially planned, prompting tighter security and the hiring of private guards by some candidates.
On Sunday, French police and military services have the headache of providing security for 70,000 voting stations across France and its overseas territories.
The Interior Ministry announced here that 50,000 police, Gendarmes and military personnel would be on duty on April 23 for the first-round vote.
France has also voted a State of Emergency since the November 2015 when a spate of shootings and suicide bombings killed 130 people in an around Paris. That attack, by a Belgian-based group, was claimed by IS.
The State of Emergency, renewed several times, allows for exceptional powers for police to search, arrest, monitor suspects, and place those judged dangerous under house arrest.
Restrictions can also be placed on suspects moving within or outside of France and border controls have been beefed up to prevent suspect individuals from entering the country.
While security is only coming into the campaign in recent days, in the wake of the Marseille arrests, it is still not the top topic for French voters, who see the economy and particularly high unemployment at 10 percent as more vital to their interests.
Nonetheless, candidates in the final run-up to the election on Sunday have been focusing more on the past two bloody years when France suffered a series of deadly terrorist attacks.
Since January 2015, 230 people have been killed here, mainly in Paris in November 2015 and in Nice, where a truck attack killed 86 people during the Bastille Day celebrations on July 14, 2016.
More, than 500 people were wounded in the terrorist attacks and this trauma is re-emerging in the campaign's final days, with a number of candidates proposing stricter measures to curb potential terrorists and their supporters in France. (end) jk.gta