French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday accused his far-right rival Marine Le Pen of being in thrall to Russian President Vladimir Putin over a years-old Russian bank loan to his party during a heated televised debate ahead of the Sunday’s elections.
While he also accused Le Pen of harboring an undiminished desire to pull France out of the European Union (EU), she retaliated by pledging to put money back into the pockets of millions of impoverished French people in during his five years of presidency.
The debate – their only one of the campaign – was peppered with pleas to ‘don’t interrupt me’ and accusations the other was not up to the task of leading France, a member of the Council of UN security with a right of veto and Europe’s second largest economy. .
“Stop mixing it all up,” Macron told Le Pen combatively during a heated exchange over France’s debt, which like others has ballooned due to pandemic support measures.
“Don’t lecture me,” replied Le Pen, who avoided the pitfalls of a previous encounter in 2017, when her presidential bid fell apart as she shuffled her notes and lost her footing.
For Le Pen, who trails Macron 56-44 in election polls, the debate was a chance to persuade voters that she has the stature to be president and that they shouldn’t be afraid to see the extreme right in power.
Macron’s strongest lines of attack concerned a loan to his party for his 2017 campaign taken out through a Russian bank.
“You depend on Russian power, you depend on Mr. Putin,” Macron told his opponent.
“Many of your choices are explained by this dependence,” he said in an attack on Le Pen’s political positions, which he said always included a “project that does not dare to say its name” to withdraw France from the EU of 27.
Le Pen, who has toned down her once fiercely anti-EU rhetoric as part of a bid to broaden her electoral appeal, rejected both the charge of wanting to leave the EU and of being politically compromised by the loan Russian bank.
“I am a completely free and independent woman,” she said. (Reuters)