Sarkozy cosmetic crackdown on Islamists bolsters his re-election hope
French President Nicolas Sarkozy edged ahead in polls Tuesday, capturing votes from the far-right after a crackdown on Islamists weeks ahead of the April 22 vote boosted his security credentials.
Sarkozy has come from behind to increasingly control the campaign's themes, from security in the wake of last month's Al-Qaeda inspired killings to the economy, and he will formally announce his manifesto later this week.
But while Socialist Francois Hollande has been steadily losing ground in first-round intentions, polls say he is still set to win the second round over the rightwing Sarkozy, who was at one point France's least popular president.
The latest Ipsos poll said Tuesday that Sarkozy had risen two percentage points in first-round voter intentions to 29.5 percent, while National Front leader Marine Le Pen dropped two points to 14 percent.
Hollande was forecast to win 27.5 percent in the first round, less than Sarkozy, but the poll said Hollande would still comfortably win the second round on May 6 with 55 percent to Sarkozy's 45 percent.
Around 64 percent of those polled said their choice was already definitive, while a poll at the weekend said almost a third of voters were thinking of abstaining in the first round.
Mohamed Merah's shooting spree in and around southern city Toulouse, in which he murdered seven people including three Jewish children, allowed Sarkozy to assume his security mantle to guide a shocked nation through a time of crisis.
Since then, Sarkozy's ministers have launched a series of measures billed as anti-extremist, refusing entry last week to Islamic preachers wanting to attend a conference and on Monday announcing the expulsion of five "radicals".
A series of swoops by anti-terror police on Friday netted 19 alleged Islamists, with sources saying on Tuesday that some of them were planning kidnappings, including of a Jewish magistrate in central city Lyon.
The spokeswoman for Left Front presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, who has surged into third place in opinion polls, said she was "surprised" at the timing of Friday's arrests, and warned against "rightwing manipulation."
"I must say I'm surprised at the context," Clementine Autain told i-TELE. "If there were dangerous Islamists before, then obviously they should have been arrested."
"We have to take care not to lump things together and be duped by a rightwing manipulation of the matter."
The deputy leader of the anti-immigrant National Front, Louis Aliot, lashed out at Sarkozy, questioning the Islamist expulsions "two weeks ahead of the first round?"
Aliot said the fact one of those ordered expelled by Sarkozy's Interior Minister Claude Gueant, an Algerian convicted in connection with 1994 attacks in Morocco's Marrakesh, was allowed to be in France at all was "unacceptable".
"Not only do we have to receive all the poor of the world but on top of that, if I might say, we get all the scum from other countries. That's unacceptable," he told RMC radio.
"The government knew this Algerian was on our soil," Aliot said, but "they wait for the last two weeks, most certainly for a publicity coup."
While Friday's arrests were ordered by magistrates who are independent of the executive, the opposition has criticised the presence of television news cameras during the arrests three weeks ahead of the vote.