Trump says Paris attack will help Le Pen in election

Le Pen ultimately lost by a landslide in that final contest, but his momentary rise would have been unlikely without the last-minute incident, experts said.

There are four leading candidates in a race that is still too close to call.

The two top finishers Sunday advance to a winner-takes-all presidential runoff on May 7.

The first poll conducted entirely after Thursday's attack suggested Le Pen had gained some ground on Macron.

Le Pen took the second place in the poll with 23 per cent, up 1 point.

However, conservative former Prime Minister Francois Fillon, whose campaign was initially derailed by corruption allegations that his wife was paid as his parliamentary aide, appeared to be closing the gap, as was far-leftist, Jean-Luc Melenchon.

Le Pen, who has centered her campaign on the kind of nationalism Trump rode to the White House, said in a statement after the attack that "radical Islam" - a "monstrous, totalitarian ideology that has declared war on our nation, on reason, on civilization" - was to blame, and called for France to immediately restore its borders.

The Champs-Elysees gunman who shot and killed a police officer just days before France's presidential election was detained in February for threatening police but later freed.

The French government pulled out all the stops to protect Sunday's vote as the attack deepened France's political divide.

Trump was a supporter of the British decision to exit the European Union and has stated his preference for one-on-one trade and defence agreements with US allies.

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Fillon also seized on the attack, which was claimed by the militant group Islamic State, saying the fight against "Islamist totalitarianism" should be the priority of the next president.

"I don't like any of them, they're all disappointing, said 73-year-old Ghislaine Pincont of Lille".

Financial markets, though, shrugged off the latest twist in the campaign, with French benchmark bond yields hitting a three-month low.

Voting took place amid heightened security in the first election under France's state of emergency, which has been in place since gun-and-bomb attacks in Paris in 2015. There have also been attacks on a satirical weekly and a kosher store. The Islamic State group quickly claimed responsibility for the attack, which hit just three days before a tense presidential election.

Investigators believe at this stage that the gunman, 39-year-old Frenchman Karim Cheurfi, was alone in killing a police officer and wounding two others and a German tourist on Thursday night, less than 72 hours before polls open, a French official who discussed details of the investigation with the AP said on condition of anonymity.

"He was not on the security watch list and had shown no signs of radicalisation despite his many years in prison". But Belgium's interior minister said the pseudonym did not belong to the attacker.

"The government is fully mobilised".

"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.

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

By contrast, Emmanuel Macron, the popular independent candidate vying for the presidency, however, was quick to argue against any fearmongering. "Anyone who pretends (otherwise) is both irresponsible and deceitful".

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