French candidates halt campaigns; Le Pen calls for border controls

French presidential candidate for the far-right, Marine Le Pen on Friday said France needs to reinforce its borders after a police officer was killed on the Champs Elysees. The Islamic State took responsibility for the attack. Photo by Julien De Rosa/EPA

April 21 (UPI) — French presidential candidates on Friday announced the halt of their campaigns after the fatal shooting of a Paris police officer, for which the Islamic State took credit.

With the first round of voting scheduled for Sunday, center-right candidate Francois Fillon, far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and leftist candidate Emmanuel Macron announced they suspended their campaigns. In opinion polls, the three lead the list of presidential candidates in popularity. The three took part in a televised debate Thursday evening when the shooting on Paris’ Champs-Elysees occurred.

A single gunman with an automatic rifle opened fire on a police bus on Paris’ most prominent street, and was shot by the return fire of security forces as he attempted to escape. Two other police officers were injured in the incident, Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said.

“On the face of it, the officers were deliberately targeted,” Brandet said.

The busy street was evacuated, with at least one restaurant shielding customers in its basement.

Police later arrested three family members of the alleged shooter, who they did not identify; prosecutor Francois Molins later said the shooter’s identity was “known and has been verified.” The Islamic State took responsibility for the shooting and identified the attacker as Abu-Yusef al-Baljiki in a statement on its video channel.

More than 50,000 police officers were on hand for security in Paris as the election nears, and French President Francois Hollande convened a meeting of the national defense council on Friday. Hollande is not running for re-election.

At the debate, the three leading candidates expressed support of the police, Fillon saying there is “no room for pursuing an election campaign today or tomorrow because, first of all, we have to demonstrate our solidarity with police.”

Far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melanchon said that panic should not “interrupt democracy,” and later, Le Pen called on Hollande to restore border controls and immediately expel or detain anyone in France suspected of radical Islamist sentiment.

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