MARSEILLE, France – Slipping in polls in the final days before the start of France’s presidential voting on Sunday, the far-right leader Marine Le Pen is rallying her base by hardening a line — already very hard — on her principal campaign theme: immigration.
At a rally in Marseille, a city where immigrants are omnipresent, Le Pen, leader of the National Front, vowed to clamp down, expel, stamp out and restrict immigration and make France “more French.”
The tough talk was met with thunderous chants of “This is our home!” from a hall packed with 5,000 supporters waving French flags, many bused in from all over southern France.
In the stands, her supporters spoke of “massive” immigration, and Le Pen echoed the word back to them. “Just watch the interlopers from all over the world come and install themselves in our home,” she said. “Our first act will be to restore France’s frontiers.”
The words were red meat to her supporters and were intended to shore up her flagging poll numbers as the campaign closes. Polls once showed her at 30 percent, but her support fell as doubts about her readiness grew.
Two men thought to be also-rans — Jean Luc Mélenchon of the far left and François Fillon of the center right — are within 3 points of her. Le Pen is still expected to emerge Sunday as one of the two finalists in the May 7 runoff, a breakthrough.
Polls predict a heavy loss for her in the second round, however. A poll conducted for Le Monde and published this week said that she would get only about 30 percent of Fillon’s voters in the second round — not nearly enough, according to Joel Gombin, a National Front specialist at the University of Picardy Jules Verne, who said she must get more than 50 percent of former Fillon supporters to have a shot at the presidency.
But Le Pen is not taking any chances with the first round, either. Tough talk on immigrants is what her supporters want from her, and on Wednesday night in a rundown neighborhood of Marseille, they were not disappointed.
As she denounced her opponents on the left as “immigrationists,” men in the stands shouted, coarsely, that they would cut off a certain part of their rivals’ anatomy.
Police officers brandishing automatic weapons guarded the hall — two men were arrested in Marseille on Tuesday and are suspected of preparing an attack to disrupt the election — and Le Pen eagerly linked immigration to “insecurity,” a favorite theme of hers.
Areas around Marseille and other parts of southern France have large immigrant populations from North Africa.
“It is absolutely frightful. I’ve never seen so many burqas,” said Christiane Guille, a nurse from Salon-de-Provence, referring to the head-to-foot robe worn by some Muslim women. “Frightful. And it’s getting worse and worse. It’s like a cult.”
Le Pen has proposed a series of anti-immigration measures, constants in her campaign for months, but with some new ones in the last few days.
She promised a “moratorium” on immigration as soon as she takes office; an end to family reunifications — the long-standing, divisive policy of allowing into the country family members of immigrants; the expulsion of illegal immigrants, and cutting medical help to illegal immigrants.
All of the proposals met with roars of approval.
France had a record 85,700 asylum seekers last year and about 227,500 foreigners were granted residency permits, an increase of nearly 5 percent from the preceding year. Le Pen has spoken of drastically limiting legal immigration to around 10,000 people a year.