France begins frenetic campaign after Macron poll gamble

Protesters gather during an anti far-right rally after French president called legislative elections following far-right parties' significant gains in European Parliament elections, in Paris on June 15, 2024.

France on Monday began less than a fortnight of frenetic election campaigning for snap polls called by President Emmanuel Macron to combat the far right, with star footballer Kylian Mbappe warning the country was at a historic crossroads.

Candidates had until June 16 evening to register for the 577 seats in the lower house National Assembly ahead of the official start of campaigning from midnight for the June 30 first round. The decisive second round takes place on July 7.

The alliance led by centrist Macron, who called the snap polls some three years early after the far right trounced his party in EU Parliament elections, is still lagging way behind with little chance of winning an outright majority itself.

Many in France, including ex-leaders, remain baffled over why Macron took the risk of calling an election that could see the far-right National Rally (RN) leading the government and its leader Jordan Bardella, 28, as prime minister.

One of the most high-profile of the last candidates to register was Marie-Caroline Le Pen, the elder sister of the RN's three-time presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, who will stand for the party in the central Sarthe region.

Her daughter Nolwenn Olivier is Bardella's ex-partner.

Mbappe, representing France at the Euro 2024 tournament in Germany, said he was "against extremes and divisive ideas" and urged young people to vote at a "crucial moment" in French history.

The striker defended comments made on June 15 by his teammate Marcus Thuram, saying he "had not gone...

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