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France’s government spokesperson is attacked on the campaign trail, days before decisive election

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PARIS (AP) — In the final stretch before France’s high-stakes parliamentary elections Sunday, several candidates have reported being attacked on the campaign trail, including government spokesperson Prisca Thevenot.

The French interior minister said Thursday that 30,000 police officers will be deployed on voting day, including 5,000 in the Paris region. Tensions are high as left-wing and moderate groups try to prevent the anti-immigration, nationalist National Rally from winning an absolute legislative majority, which would be a first and a major historical shift for France.

Candidates have complained of both hate speech and physical violence in the brief and polarizing campaign for the snap elections.

Thevenot, a candidate for the centrist Ensemble alliance led by President Emmanuel Macron, said she and a deputy and a party activist were putting up election posters in Meudon near Paris on Wednesday night when a group attacked them. Thevenot’s deputy and the party activist were taken to a hospital.

’’The symbolic violence of words quickly was replaced by physical violence,″ she told reporters while back on the campaign trail Thursday. ‘’We are still a bit shocked … I remain mobilized.”

She said the motive for the attack was being investigated. The prosecutor’s office said it opened an investigation into a gang assault with a weapon against a public official. Four people, including three minors, are in custody, prosecutors said.

Politicians on all sides condemned the attack and others on candidates from various parties.

Marie Dauchy, a National Rally candidate in Savoy, said she was assaulted Wednesday at a food market while campaigning and announced she was abandoning the race. Her party’s leader and three-time presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen, said on X that two men had “cowardly” assaulted Dauchy.

Nicolas Conquer, a candidate for The Republicans, said on social media that he was assaulted while distributing election flyers in the Atlantic coast city of Cherbourg on Tuesday. He was accompanied by a minor when the incident happened, and reported it to police, he said.

In the Alps, 77-year-old local official Bernard Dupre was beaten while hanging campaign posters for former Health Minister Olivier Veran, Veran said Thursday. French media broadcast images of Dupre’s bloodied eye.

“Let’s reject the climate of violence and hatred that is taking hold,” Prime Minister Gabriel Attal said Thursday on X.

“This climate is deplorable,” Le Pen said in a TV interview.

A few hours before being targeted, Thevenot had shared her anxiety as a person of color in a “complicated” political situation with French broadcaster TF1. Her parents hail from the African island of Mauritius.

“I don’t say this only as spokesperson of the government, but more as the daughter of immigrants and mother of mixed-race children,” she said, citing repeated and intensified racist attacks. “They no longer do it anonymously, but with uncovered faces and even with a certain pride.”

Many people have voiced concerns that the surge in voter support for the fiercely anti-immigration National Rally has made people feel more comfortable using racist, xenophobic and antisemitic language in public.

A candidate who campaigned in the outskirts of Paris for Macron’s camp was assigned private security guards by her party after she said she was the target of antisemitic abuse.

Pamphlets targeting Black people appeared in mailboxes in the Paris suburb of Chatou, shocking residents. Activist group SOS Racisme filed a legal complaint for inciting hatred, and said that its offices around France have seen a rise in reports of racist comments and acts during the campaign.

The government agency tallying racist acts did not have recent data since the brief campaign began.

French newspaper Le Canard Enchaine reported that Fadila Khattabi, the minister for people with disabilities and the daughter of Algerian immigrants, was in tears when she shared a personal story at a ministerial meeting at the Elysée Palace on Monday. “Considering my origins, I am scared of racist speech,” she said, according to the newspaper. “My son, a symbol of republican success, a child of immigration who became a pharmacist, now wants to leave France, out of fear of a National Rally victory.”

A group called the Antifascist Action Paris-Suburbs called for a protest outside the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, on Sunday night as results come in to stand up against the far right. Le Pen denounced the call.

Macron called a surprise legislative election on June 9 after his centrist alliance suffered a punishing defeat at the hands of the National Rally in French voting for the European Parliament, plunging the country into a chaotic, sudden legislative campaign.

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Angela Charlton in Paris contributed.

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Follow AP coverage of global elections at https://apnews.com/hub/global-elections/

By DIANE JEANTET
Associated Press

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