Sunday 23 July 2017

French election probe as Macron team claims it has been the target of hackers

French independent centrist presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron clenches his fist as he campaigns in Rodez, southern France, Friday. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
French independent centrist presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron clenches his fist as he campaigns in Rodez, southern France, Friday. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
French centrsit presidential election candidate Emmanuel Macron, center, visits at the Compagnons du Devoir house in Rodez, southern France, Friday, May 5, 2017. On the last day of France's presidential campaign, centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron mingled with the crowd in the small streets of the southwestern town of Rodez. (Jose A. Torres, Pool via AP)
Emmanuel Macron, head of the political movement En Marche !, or Onwards !, and candidate for the 2017 presidential election, is pictured through a window of his hotel during a campaign visit in Rodez, France, May 5, 2017. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

Elaine Ganley and Nadine Achoui-Lesage

France's election campaign commission is investigating a hacking attack on presidential favourite Emmanuel Macron's political movement and the leaking of documents online.

The commission said it would hold a meeting early on Saturday to discuss the attack that Mr Macron's team said was a bid to destabilise Sunday's vote.

The commission urged French media not to publish the documents, warning that some of them were "probably" fake.

Under French electoral law there is a blackout on Saturday and most of Sunday on any campaigning and media coverage seen as swaying the election, to allow voters a period of reflection before casting their ballots.

Centrist Mr Macron's En Marche! movement said late on Friday night that it had been the victim of a "massive and co-ordinated" hacking attack that led to the leak of campaign emails and financial documents.

In a statement, the movement said it was hacked a few weeks ago and that the leaked documents had been mixed with false documents to "seed doubt and disinformation" and destabilise the presidential run-off.

Hillary Clinton's US presidential campaign suffered similar leaks and also said authentic documents were mixed with false ones.

Fears of hacking, fake news manipulation and Russian meddling clouded the French campaign but had largely gone unrealised until Friday's admission by Mr Macron's campaign of the online pirate attack.

It was unclear who was behind the hack and the leak. The campaign blackout starting minutes after the Macron team announcement means Ms Le Pen's campaign cannot legally comment on the leak.

US far-right circles were abuzz with the news that Mr Macron's campaign had been hit by a massive disclosure, but the news comes soon after a crude forgery was circulated on an online message board popular with pranksters and extremists.

Online whistleblowing site WikiLeaks sounded a sceptical note, saying the Macron leaks might be misinformation.

Meanwhile Mr Macron's far-right rival Marine Le Pen says she believes she can pull off a surprise victory at the polls.

In the final hours of the hostile, topsy-turvy campaign, Ms Le Pen said that win or lose, "we changed everything", claiming an "ideological victory" for her populist, anti-immigrant world view in an election that could change Europe's direction.

It is a stark choice: Ms Le Pen's anti-immigration, anti-European Union platform, or Mr Macron's progressive, pro-EU stance.

Tensions marred the race right to the end.

France's presidential voting watchdog called on the Interior Ministry late on Friday to look into claims by the Le Pen campaign that ballot papers are being tampered with nationwide to benefit Mr Macron.

The Le Pen campaign said electoral administrators in several regions who receive ballot papers for both candidates had found the Le Pen ballot "systematically torn up".

Earlier in the day, anti-Le Pen crowds disrupted her visit to a renowned cathedral in Reims.

The presidential campaign has been unusually bitter, with voters hurling eggs and flour, protesters clashing with police and candidates insulting each other on national television - a reflection of the widespread public disaffection with politics as usual.

Ms Le Pen, 48, has brought her far-right National Front party, once a pariah for its racism and anti-Semitism, closer than ever to the French presidency, seizing on working-class voters' growing frustration with globalisation and immigration.

Even if she loses, she is likely to be a powerful opposition figure in French politics in the upcoming parliamentary election campaign.

"Even if we don't reach our goal, in any event there is a gigantic political force that is born," she said at her campaign headquarters.

Her party "imposed the overhaul" of French politics and set the tone of the election, she said.

Mr Macron, 39, also played a key role in upending France's traditional political structure with his wild-card campaign.

Voters liked the idea and chose Mr Macron and Ms Le Pen in the first-round vote, dumping the traditional left and right parties that have governed modern France.

Ms Le Pen said those parties have been "blackballed".

Many voters, however, do not like either candidate.

They fear Ms Le Pen's party's racist past, while worrying that Mr Macron's platform would demolish job protections or be too much like his mentor, the deeply unpopular outgoing president Francois Hollande.

Students protested against both presidential candidates on Friday by blocking high schools and marching through Paris.

But Ms Le Pen said she was confident she could bring the divided country together if elected.

"Yes. I want most of all to put democracy back in place ... we must re-weave the links among people," she said.

The pro-business Mr Macron acknowledged that the French were exasperated by the government's ineffectiveness, but dismissed Ms Le Pen's vision of an infuriated country.

She "speaks for no one. ... Madame Le Pen exploits anger and hatred", he told RTL radio.

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