French election: Nice attack fresh in the minds of voters

Just weeks out from the first round of voting in the French election, former banker Emmanuel Macron and National Front leader Marine Le Pen have a quarter of the vote each.

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Nine months after a Tunisian-born French man drove a cargo truck through the Nice crowd, the only signs left of the Bastille Day horror are the heavily armed soldiers patrolling the iconic promenade and a faded floral tribute.

For the many hundreds of survivors, it’s one day at a time and outdoor group therapy sessions help to clear their minds – at least for a moment.

“People know but they didn’t see it, they didn’t smell it, so they can’t understand, nobody can understand,” survivor Martine said.

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“So we need to feel like humans again because we are kind of dead. After having seen that we are not really alive anymore.”

Mickael Kobaitri was one of the first on the scene – the attack happened right outside his restaurant.

“Everything changed, everything changed,” he said.

And after a string of attacks across France that have left hundreds dead, Marine Le Pen’s promise of ‘France First’ is fast gaining traction.

“Before Marine Le Pen was like the devil in French politics, now it’s less like that,” Nice councillor Guillaume Aral said.

Ms Le Pen’s anti-immigration and anti-European Union rhetoric has struck a chord in a city where residents are struggling to understand why they were targeted.

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“We had the Brexit and I would like the Fexit,” Mr Aral said.

“As you know we are living in France with a state of emergency for two years due to terrorists attacks, Islamic terrorist attacks… so we cannot welcome anyone else now.”

While the prospect of ‘President Le Pen’ has some here excited – others are anxious.

“It’s a catastrophe. It would be a catastrophe for France and a catastrophe for the world,” Imam Mahmoud Benzamia said.

One-third of the Bastille Day attack victims were Muslim, and 10 of them worshipped at the city’s prayer hall, which has become the target of further attacks.

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“The first attack was a pig corpse left at the front entrance and the second incident was the head and the skin of a pig,” Mr Benzamia said.

“Now people look badly at people who aren’t white on the street, especially our Muslim sisters who wear the veil.”

Mr Benzamia worried the election appealed to people’s fears and not their principles.

Nice is certainly not Marine Le Pen heartland. Like with Brexit, the US election and the recent Dutch vote, the anti-establishment candidates tend to resonate with more of the population the further you move away from capital cities.

Vincent survived the attack on Promenande de Anglais and he believes the republic will survive this election, too.

“I hope that when the French people go to the ballot box in a few days, they remember their values, these human values, these shared values that are so important in our democracy.

“‘Liberty, egality and fraternity’ are not just words, they are actions here in France,” he said.

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