Le Pen and Macron clash over fishing industry following 'battle of Whirlpool'
French presidential candidates Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron have clashed over the future of the fishing industry.
The exchange marked a return to more traditional campaigning after the extraordinary "battle of Whirlpool", when both candidates sought to harness France's blue-collar vote at a threatened home appliances factory.
The anti-EU far-right populist Ms Le Pen was up before dawn to cruise aboard a fishing trawler on the Mediterranean.
The sea trip was her latest television-friendly effort to portray herself as the candidate of France's workers against the centrist Mr Macron, whom she paints as the candidate of the financial, political and pro-EU elite.
Mr Macron has a scheduled television appearance on Thursday evening.
Ms Le Pen said after her voyage aboard the trawler, Grace of God 2: "My grandfather was a fisherman, so I am in my element."
She said France will take back control of its maritime policies if she is elected in the second-round vote on May 7.
The far-right candidate again tore into Mr Macron's more economically liberal policy plans. He fired back on Twitter, saying Ms Le Pen's proposals to take France out of the EU would sink France's fishing industry.
"Have a nice trip. Europe's exit she proposes, it's the end of French fishing. Think about it," he tweeted.
With her sea voyage, Ms Le Pen continued to hammer home the blue-collar theme she sought to take ownership of on Wednesday with a surprise visit to the threatened Whirlpool clothes-dryer factory in northern France.
That wily campaign manoeuvre put Mr Macron on the defensive and prompted him to meet angry Whirlpool workers later that same day.
On Thursday, newspapers and commentators debated which of the two candidates scored the most points in the remarkable Whirlpool drama which highlighted their clash of styles and was broadcast live on French news channels.
"War is declared", ran the front-page headline of the daily Liberation.
Former presidential candidate Francois Bayrou - a Macron ally - awarded victory to the centrist, saying Mr Macron showed courage by spending more than an hour trying to reason with workers at the plant in Amiens.
Mr Bayrou, speaking on BFM television, said Mr Macron's impromptu visit - his attempt to take back the initiative after Ms Le Pen stole his thunder by popping up earlier in the day at the Whirlpool factory gates - could have been "very bad for him".
Mr Macron was whistled and booed when he first arrived, amid chaotic scenes. But he stood his ground, patiently and at times passionately debating with workers in often heated exchanges about how to stop French jobs from moving abroad.
"Arriving to whistles, he (Macron) left shaking hands", which showed his character, Mr Bayrou said.
Mr Macron later visited the ethnically mixed Paris suburb of Sarcelles.
As he met with residents, Mr Macron continued his counter-attack, calling Ms Le Pen's National Front party "xenophobic".
He said: "There's Marine Le Pen's project of a fractured, closed France. On the other hand, you have my project, which is a republican, patriotic project aiming at reconciling France."
Mr Macron went into a gymnasium to meet members of an association that works to socially integrate local youth through sports and by helping them to set up businesses and find jobs.
Many French voters cannot stomach either candidate. During one protest in Paris, French high school students scuffled with riot police amid a cloud of tear gas, after they painted Ms Le Pen as an extreme nationalist with dangerous views and Mr Macron as being too cosy with the financial world.
Students blocked entrances to some high schools and marched through eastern Paris to the Bastille neighbourhood, the heart of the 1789 French revolution.
Most of the protesters were peaceful, but a few clashed with the riot police ringing the crowds.
Many of the students are not old enough to vote, yet they reflect a chunk of the French electorate which is expected to sit out the May 7 election, either because they dislike both candidates or because they assume Mr Macron will win.
While Mr Macron has been considered the favourite for the run-off, pollsters have long noted that a very low turnout could propel Ms Le Pen to the presidency.