French voters are going to the polls to choose their next president, amid high security following a deadly attack on Champs Elysees three days ago.
About 50,000 police and 7,000 soldiers are being deployed across France to secure polling.
Eleven candidates are vying to be France’s next president, with leading candidates spanning the political spectrum from far-left to far-right.
The two with the most votes will go to a run-off round in a fortnight’s time.
Polling stations in France opened at 08:00 local time, although some overseas territories began the voting on April 22. Voting ends at 20:00, with exit polls expected quickly afterwards.
Four candidates are currently seen as being within reach of the presidency: conservative François Fillon, far-right leader Marine Le Pen, liberal centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon.
Image source France24
The candidates have created plenty of debate in France, all offering dramatically different visions of Europe, immigration, the economy and French identity.
Extra security measures are in place on polling day after Karim Cheurfi, a convicted criminal, shot dead a police officer on the Champs Elysees in Paris.
Karim Cheurfi was killed by security forces and a note defending ISIS was found near his body.
National security had been one of the main talking points during the campaign, but candidates have been accused of exploiting the most recent attack for political gains.
The race between the leading contenders is considered too close to call.
However, no candidate is expected to get the 50% of votes required for an outright win.
A second round between the top two will be held on May 7.
Francois Fillon is the only one among the leading contenders from an established party of government.
Benoît Hamon, the socialist candidate from the same party as the current president, is seen as out of the running.
A police officer has been shot dead and two other wounded after a gunman opened fire on Paris’ Champs-Elysees on April 20.
The 39-year-old gunman has been identified from papers left in his car, but French officials are yet to release his name.
Local media say the suspect lived in Paris’ suburbs, and had been seen as a potential Islamist radical.
The attacker was killed by security forces on the Champs-Elysees.
President François Hollande is to chair a security cabinet meeting, as France readies for April 23 presidential poll.
Francois Hollande said he was convinced the attack was “terrorist-related”, adding that the security forces had the full support of the nation and a national tribute would be paid to the fallen policeman.
Meanwhile, ISIS said one of its “fighters” had carried out the attack.
A car pulled up alongside a police bus just before 21:00 and a man got out, opening fire on the bus with an automatic weapon, Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said.
After killing an officer, the man attempted to run away while shooting at other officers, two of whom he injured, the spokesman added.
The attacker was then shot dead by security forces.
The whole of the Champs-Elysees was evacuated.
Overnight, a property in the eastern Parisian suburb of Chelles was searched by investigators, who want to know who else – if anyone – may have known about the gunman’s plans.
Paris prosecutor François Molins said shortly after the shootings that “the attacker’s identity is known and has been verified”.
Image source NBC News
“I won’t reveal it, because investigations and raids are already under way, in particular to establish whether there is any evidence or not of complicity (in this attack),” Francois Molins said, adding that more information would be released on April 21.
According to French media, the gunman served several years in prison for firing on police officers with a gun in the early 2000s.
Meanwhile, ISIS identified the attacker as Abu-Yusuf al-Baljiki, in a statement carried by its Amaq news outlet.
The 11 candidates standing in April 23 closely fought presidential election were engaged in a final joint TV appearance to argue their policies as the attack happened.
Marine Le Pen, of the far-right Front National, tweeted: “I feel for and stand by our security forces, who have been targeted again.”
Center-right contender François Fillon also went on Twitter to pay “tribute to the security forces who give their lives to protect ours”.
Independent centrist Emmanuel Macron said during his TV appearance that it was a president’s “first duty to protect” and he expressed his “solidarity” with the police.
Marine Le Pen, Francois Fillon and Emmanuel Macron have announced they are canceling campaign events scheduled for April 21, the last day of canvassing for votes.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon, standing for the far left, tweeted: “I strongly feel for the policemen killed and wounded and their families. Terrorist attacks will never go unpunished, accomplices never forgotten.”
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