(Vatican Radio) The people of France are voting in the first round of presidential elections with opinion polls showing far right candidate Marine Le Pen is among those receiving many votes. A run-off election between the top two candidates will be held on May 7. Sunday's ballot was held amid security concerns following Thursday's attack that killed a policeman and injured two other officers and a woman. A knife wielding man was detained ahead of the elections, though his motives remain unclear.
Listen to Stefan Bos' report:
The polls opened in France after prime minister Bernard Cazeneuve condemned the front runners for allegedly exploiting Thursday's terror attack in France for political reasons. He specifically mentioned Le Pen who has linked terrorism to the ongoing immigration. Most of the people fleeing war and poverty are Muslims.
"France continues to exhaust itself with uncontrolled immigration," she told supporters.
A young voter, David Masson-Weyl, who supports her, agrees. "She is saying like [President Donald] Trump did in the US "make France great again". She has a really strong message. She brings more hope, she gives France more jobs, less immigration."
Opinion polls show her nearly neck-and-neck with centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron, seen as a jump in the past week.
Analysts point out that the latest attack in Paris, which killed a police officer and left three other people wounded Thursday, may have contributed to her surge in support, though some survivors of these and other attacks view her as a fear monger.
Polls suggested that Le Pen and Macron, an independent centrist and former economy minister, were in the lead. However, conservative Francois Fillon, a former prime minister whose campaign was initially derailed by corruption allegations that his wife was paid but did no work as his parliamentary aide, appeared to be closing the gap, as was far-leftist candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon.
Following Thursday's attack, the government has mobilized more than 50,000 police and gendarmes to protect 70,000 polling stations, with an additional 7,000 soldiers on patrol.
Yet that has not prevented some violence.
Ahead of Sunday's ballot anarchists and others protesting against capitalism and the ballot clashed with police. It overshadowed a nearby more peaceful rally organized by left-wing unions and communists.
While some of the activists destroyed publicity signs on the road between Place de la Republique and Place de la Bastille, others could be seen throwing and projectiles at the police, who retaliated with tear gas.
Elsewhere panicked passengers fled in terror as a knifeman was arrested at Paris' Gare du Nord station. Police sources say the arrested man is a 20-year-old from Mali.
However police reportedly said the suspect, who was not previously known to law enforcement, claimed he was carrying the knife because he feared for his life and was not intent on harming anyone. No injuries have been reported.
Security is just one of top concerns of voters who cast first-round ballots in what commentators have called the most nail-biting French election in generations. Voters are also concerned about France's 10 percent unemployment and its troubled economy.
The election is also widely being viewed as a ballot on the future of the 28-nation European Union. Analysts say the far-right Le Pen and the far-left Melenchon could pull France out of the bloc and its shared euro currency - a so-called "Frexit."
A French exit is expected to ignite a death spiral for the EU, the euro and the whole idea of European unity that was borne out of the bloodshed of World War II. France is a founding member of the EU and its main driver, along with former rival Germany.