6 Dec 2015

First French poll since Paris attacks

8:36 pm on 6 December 2015

France is set to vote in its first round of regional elections, the first electoral challenge since the Paris attacks, which killed 130 people.

A picture taken on December 2, 2015 in Paris shows a cuddly toy and a French flag at a makeshift memorial in front of the statue of the Republique in tribute to the victims of November 13 terror attacks in Paris.

A makeshift memorial in the Place de la Republique in tribute to the victims of the November 13 attacks in Paris. Photo: AFP

The elections are viewed as a test of public support for the government's response to the attacks on 13 November.

The far-right National Front (FN) is hoping to make gains and the centre-right Les Republicains party led by former President Nicolas Sarkozy is expected to win a majority of regions.

The second round is on 13 December.

Polls open at 08:00 (07:00 GMT) and close at 20:00 (19:00 GMT), with some 44 million people eligible to vote.

FN leader Marine Le Pen is likely to win in the northern region of Nord-Pas-De-Calais-Picardie, while her niece Marion Marechal-Le Pen is a leading contender in the southern region of Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur.

It would be the first time the National Front has captured any of France's regions.

National Front leader Marine Le Pen reacts during a campaign meeting in Nimes on 2 December ahead of the upcoming regional elections.

National Front leader Marine Le Pen reacts during a campaign meeting ahead of the regional elections. Photo: AFP

Both Les Republicains and the National Front are heading for around 30 percent of votes, according to opinion polls, but President Francois Hollande's Socialist Party is trailing on around 22 percent and looks likely to lose control of some regions.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls made an "appeal to patriotism" on Thursday in an effort to rally the Socialist vote in elections that usually see a low turnout because of the relatively limited powers enjoyed by regional administrations.

The National Front is hoping that a strong performance in this poll will boost the party's chances for the 2017 presidential elections.

New suspects

A recent opinion poll suggests the National Front's popularity has increased by between 4 and 7 percentage points since the Paris attacks.

The assaults on 13 November left 130 people dead and more than 350 wounded.

On Friday, the Belgian prosecutor's office said police were seeking two new suspects accused of aiding fugitive suspect Salah Abdeslam.

The pair are "armed and dangerous" and are thought to have helped Mr Abdeslam travel to Hungary in September.

Investigators say Mr Abdeslam may have driven the suicide bombers at the Stade de France to their target on the night of the Paris attacks.

But Mr Abdeslam's precise role in the attacks remains unclear. There are suggestions he was meant to carry out a suicide attack on the night but decided against it.

- BBC

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