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France Warns Russia Over 'Interference' In Presidential Election


Emmanuel Macron, a pro-Europe candidate in the two-stage presidential election beginning on April 23, has accused Moscow of responsibility for cyberattacks targeting the website and e-mail servers of his campaign.

France says it will not accept meddling by Russia or any other country in its upcoming presidential election, and that it could respond to such interference with "retaliatory measures."

The remarks by French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault on February 15 come in the wake of what U.S. intelligence officials have described a Kremlin-directed campaign of hacking and public-opinion manipulation that aimed to help President Donald Trump win the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

"We will not accept any interference whatsoever in our electoral process, no more from Russia, by the way, than from any other state," Ayrault told parliament.

Ayrault said France could respond to such meddling with "retaliatory measures when that is necessary."

His warning came after aides to Emmanuel Macron, a pro-Europe candidate in the two-stage presidential election beginning on April 23, accused Moscow of responsibility for cyberattacks targeting the website and e-mail servers of his campaign.

The Kremlin on February 15 dismissed the accusation as absurd.

Russia also denies it interfered in the U.S election in order to help Trump defeat his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, in the November 8 U.S. election.

With France's major parties on the right and left both struggling amid scandals and internal divisions, Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front has emerged as the front-runner to win the first-round vote.

But polls now suggest Macron is likely to defeat Le Pen in a second-round runoff.

As Macron's status in French opinion polls has been rising, Russian state-run media and pro-Kremlin websites increasingly have been attacking the 39-year-old former economy minister.

In January, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian warned that cyberattacks targeting his country had increased dramatically in the past three years and that the presidential votes in April and May could be targeted.

Russia has also been blamed for a cyberattack on the German parliament in 2015, with German politicians warning in December that the country's 2017 parliamentary elections are at risk from "outside manipulation" from hackers and others acting for the Russian state.

Wolfgang Bosbach, a senior lawmaker from Chancellor Angela Merke's conservative Christian Democratic Union, warned of "influence-peddling through targeted infiltration from outside, with the goal of manipulating facts or opinions" during Germany's election campaign.

The warnings in France and Germany come after a U.S. intelligence report released on January 6 concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin "ordered" a campaign of hacking and media manipulation aimed at influencing the U.S. presidential election.

Russia denies involvement in cyber-intrusions that resulted in Democratic Party e-mails being hacked and leaked during the U.S. presidential campaign.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, BBC, and The New York Times
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