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Le Pen vows headscarf fines in tight French election battle

President Emmanuel Macron built what seemed an unassailable lead ahead of the first round of polls Sunday but Le Pen has eroded the margin and feels she has a real chance of winning the run-off on April 24.

With France’s traditional right- and left-wing parties facing electoral disaster, far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon is on course to come third and he still believes he can sneak into a run-off.

Speaking to RTL radio, Le Pen explained how her pledge to ban the headscarf in all public spaces would be implemented, saying it would be enforced by police in the same way as seatbelt-wearing in cars.

“People will be given a fine in the same way that it is illegal to not wear your seat belt. It seems to me that the police are very much able to enforce this measure,” she said.

Le Pen has said she will use referendums to try to avoid constitutional challenges to many of her proposed laws on the basis that they are discriminatory and an infringement on personal freedoms.

Previous legislation in France banning obvious religious symbols in schools or full-face coverings in public was allowed on the basis that it applied to all citizens and in specific settings.

Le Pen, 53, has toned down her anti-immigration rhetoric during campaigning this year and has focused instead on household spending, putting her closer than ever to power, polls indicate.

The latest surveys suggest she is within striking distance of centrist Macron if the two of them come top in the first round of voting on Sunday.

A second round run-off is scheduled for April 24, with an average of polls indicating Macron has a slight lead of 54 percent versus 46 percent for Le Pen.

Melenchon is also rising strongly ahead of voting and is talking up his chances of springing a surprise.

The war in Ukraine as well as strains on the health system after two years of Covid-19 are high among voter concerns, behind the biggest priority: inflation and incomes.

Final rallies
Le Pen is to hold her last campaign rally on Thursday evening in the southern stronghold of Perpignan where her National Rally party has long had strong support and runs the local council.

The slogan “Vote!” underlines the priority for Le Pen in encouraging supporters to turn out on Sunday after high abstention rates resulted in a disappointing result for her in regional elections last June.

Greens candidate Yannick Jadot, conservative Valerie Pecresse, far-right former TV pundit Eric Zemmour and flagging Socialist nominee Anne Hidalgo also have rallies planned Thursday.

Macron will give an interview to the Aujourd’hui newspaper in which he is expected to continue his strategy of promising steady leadership in a time of crisis, while portraying Le Pen as a dangerous extremist.

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