Did campaign that played to the far right trigger actions of killer?


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The horrific school killings in Toulouse fell like a bombshell on the French presidential election campaign.

Was it just a coincidence that the murders – and the probably related killings of three soldiers of North African origin last week – occurred five weeks before the first round of the election? Were they somehow aimed at the French state itself? Or driven by issues within the campaign?

Only one mainstream politician had the courage to make the connection publicly. Corinne Lepage, a former centre-right Environment Minister, suggested in a tweet that the divisive themes of immigration and national identity raised in recent weeks by President Nicolas Sarkozy might, unwittingly, have triggered the actions of a "madman".

"A madman? Maybe," she tweeted. "But the unpleasant political climate and hatred can excite people."

All mainstream candidates suspended their campaigns. President Sarkozy, his main challenger, the Socialist candidate François Hollande, and the centrist candidate, François Bayrou, flew to Toulouse to pay their respects to the victims.

The President, in a successful bid to close the first-round poll gap with Mr Hollande, has stolen the clothes of the hard-right National Front. Even the generally conservative Wall Street Journal was moved last week to dub him "Nicolas Le Pen". The President suggested that the non-labelling of halal meat was the "most talked-about issue in France" and suggested that there were "too many foreigners" in the country.

If yesterday's attacks turn out – as they may – to be the work of an Islamist extremist, Mr Sarkozy's camp will not try, overtly, to make political capital from the tragedy. But they will no doubt hope, and expect, that it will steer the election their way.

The anti-racist pressure group SOS Racism is convinced that the killings were the work of an ultra- right, racist extremist. If so, Mr Sarkozy's brand of campaigning may abruptly lose its appeal.