Presidential Candidates Emphasize Security After Paris Attack

16 hours ago
Originally published on April 21, 2017 4:44 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The Trump administration has plenty to say about a shooting in Paris. President Trump let loose on Twitter this morning saying the attack yesterday will have a big effect on the weekend presidential election. Vice President Pence spoke while traveling in Indonesia.

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VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: We will not relent in our effort to end terrorism and the threat it presents to both of our peoples. And I pledge to you our continued cooperation against terrorism in the uncertain days in which we live.

INSKEEP: Now let's hear voices from France itself. It was in Paris that an attacker opened fire near the Arc de Triomphe and killed a police officer. Police then killed him. The French presidential candidates had a chance to address it at a debate. And NPR's Eleanor Beardsley is on the line now. Hi, Eleanor.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: What was it like walking around the Champs Elysees yesterday?

BEARDSLEY: Well, it was completely blocked off. I got there - I went pretty much immediately. But - so there were crowds standing behind the tape. There were just hundreds of police, riot police, police vans, helicopters circling overhead, sirens going off.

And, you know, I talked to a couple of people who had been having cafes on the Champs Elysees, this iconic avenue, a symbol of Paris with shopping and not far from the president's house and the prime minister's residence. And he said gunfire broke out. You know, it lasted for about 30 seconds, and he said you just knew. And he said the entire avenue just stampeded. He said when people are running like that, you just run with them, so he was pretty shaken.

INSKEEP: And what does the city feel like today?

BEARDSLEY: Well, Steve, it feels completely normal. I took my son to school. Everything is as it is, and people, you know, are saying we're not going to let this change the way we live. But it is changing things. It's changing the presidential election.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about that. What impact is this going to have on the presidential race?

BEARDSLEY: Well, it has put security and, you know, the fight against terrorism at the top once again. And you have the two conservative candidates. There's top - there's four people in very close, neck and neck for the top space. And the two conservative ones Francois Fillon and far right Marine Le Pen - they're really playing on this.

Now, Fillon today says he's been warning for several years that Islamist totalitarianism is an expansion, and we've got to fight it. He says he's going to make defeating ISIS his top priority. And now Marine Le Pen has been controversial this week, even before the shooting. Here she is talking.

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MARINE LE PEN: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Now, basically, Steve, what she said this week drew a lot of criticism. She said if she'd have been in power, the 2015 and '16 terrorist attacks would not have happened under her watch because she says people who have two nationalities - and she's talking about the children of North African immigrants - who are on terrorism watch list, she'd expel them immediately.

In fact, she's gone so far as to say - because France has the right if you're born of immigrant parents at 18, you can become French - she says if you're 18, and you have any issues with the law, you will absolutely not become French. You will be denied citizenship, and she's going to expel people with any terrorist issues who have two nationalities. That's how she wants to take care of it.

INSKEEP: Let's bring this back to the facts here for a moment, though, Eleanor. Marine Le Pen is focused on restricting immigration, as you said, restricting immigration to France. She's concerned about the cultural change in the country. She made a remark about turning France into a railway station for refugees, something she said she didn't want to do. But here we are with this actual shooting. And at least according to Reuters, the gunman is identified as a French national who lived in a Paris suburb. What would closing the borders have to do with this attack?

BEARDSLEY: Exactly. Well, her claim is that she's insinuating that he - his parents are North Africa, that he's of, you know, is Muslim descent. So it would have nothing to do - you're right, Steve. All the people who attacked French - France were French and Belgian citizens. But she's saying they were also the citizens of North African countries, and she would have expelled them. This attack or he is French - we don't know who he is. They haven't named him yet because they're still doing, like, house raids on friends and family members, so we don't know who he is at all.

INSKEEP: What are the leading presidential candidates in France saying on the other side of this debate?

BEARDSLEY: Well, Emmanuel Macron is the front-runner, and I think that this - and analysts are saying this, you know - everyone is speculating, oh, this is going to help Le Pen, but not necessarily. Some people on the left who don't want Le Pen say we can't let her go, you know, win because of this. We've got to go out and vote.

And so I think it could hurt Mike Macron because he is the front-runner, but he - he's 39 years old. He's never been elected to public office, and people might say wait a minute, can we really trust the country in his hands at such a dire time? And they could turn to someone like Francois Fillon who is the conservative mainstream. He's a proven statesman, former prime minister, but he's the one under investigation for providing the fake job for his wife. But I think this could be a boost to him.

INSKEEP: And let's remember that we don't know what French voters are going to decide this weekend. It's a very close race with a lot of different factors, but just very briefly, Eleanor, it keeps being said that the future of Europe is at stake here because Marine Le Pen might pull France out of the European Union. Do French voters see the future of Europe at stake?

BEARDSLEY: They kind of do, and the far left candidate wants to pull France out as well. The main issue, Steve, is economy and jobs. And, of course, she wraps up Europe with that. She says when we have, you know - when we can't control our currency, we can't control our economy. And she mixes the EU up with security as well because she says if you can't close the borders, you can't stop terrorism. So it's become a central issue because of economy and security.

INSKEEP: Eleanor, thanks very much.

BEARDSLEY: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.