Fierce campaign to stop far-right victory in France elections
France's far-right National Front (FN) faced a ferocious campaign Tuesday to stop it taking two of France's most important regions in elections starting this weekend.
As Prime Minister Manuel Valls called the party a "menace to the economy" and business leaders warned of the "ruin" it could cause, two of the main newspapers in the north launched an unprecedented campaign to stop its leader Marine Le Pen taking control of the region.
La Voix du Nord daily and its sister paper Nord Eclair ran a second day of attacks on Le Pen and the party Tuesday, questioning their competence to rule the Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie region.
Articles headlined "Marine Le Pen and the Front are not who they say they are" and "Who are the members of the FN really?" cast doubt on the party's ability to govern the depressed region, once a Socialist stronghold.
Le Pen, who looks set to win the region -- France's second biggest -- in the two-round vote which ends on December 13, reacted with fury to the "scandalous" attacks.
She branded the four pages dedicated to the party she inherited from her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, little more than "tracts" in support of the ruling Socialist party.
"We shouldn't be surprised," she shot back, "it's payback for the nine million euros ($9.5 million) of subsidies they (the newspapers) have got from the Socialists during their mandate."
French regional newspapers, which outsell their national counterparts, rarely take a strong editorial line in the run-up to elections.
But La Voix du Nord -- which refuted the claims that it was in the pay of the FN's rivals as "counter to the truth and the facts" -- accused the Le Pen family of "nepotism".
- 'Economic danger' -
With Marine Le Pen's 25-year-old niece Marion Marechal-Le Pen also ahead in the race for the vast southeastern region that includes the French Riviera, Premier Valls claimed the party could be "pushed back if everyone does their duty" and goes out to vote.
Latest polls also show the anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant party, which has never before won a region, in a close battle for two others, Normandy in the northwest and Burgundy and Franche-Comte in the east.
"I don't bow down before these polls, the best way to show the polls are wrong is to mobilise the electorate," Valls added.
He slammed the FN, which wants to pull France out of the euro, as "an economic menace".
"The Front does not love France, and it is conning the French including on terrorism," he told Europe 1 radio, insisting that the party had voted against a recent law to strengthen the hand of the intelligence services.
The head of the Medef employers' group, Pierre Gattaz, also weighed in against the party, saying it was "an economic danger which could bring the country to its knees, ruining those the Front are appealing to -- pensioners, workers and young people who see their future stymied."
Several leading French artists led by Annette Messager and Christian Boltanski signed an open letter Tuesday warning of the threat the party posed to French cultural output.
The main live entertainment industry group, Syndeac, went one step further, taking out advertisements in leading newspapers to urge the public to vote against the party on Sunday.
"The Front represents a real danger to our sector and to the fundamental values of our democracy," Syndeac said in a statement.
France's regions control much of the country's culture budget and the FN has vowed to slash spending if it takes power.
© 2015 AFP