France's Socialist prime minister warned Friday of a slide toward "civil war" if the far-right National Front wins power in regional polls this weekend as a steppingstone toward its 2017 presidential election campaign.
Manuel Valls, head of the Socialist national government, is waging a fierce battle to keep Front leader Marine Le Pen from power, going as far as urging left-wingers to back mainstream right-wingers in regions where Le Pen and her camp could win.
"We have reached a historic moment where the bottom line for our country is a choice between two options," said Valls. "One is the extreme right, which basically stands for division, a division that can lead to civil war."
The other option, he said in a radio interview, was to vote for what the French call republican values, meaning a country open to people of diverse cultures as long as they accept the underlying rules and authority of the secular state.
The National Front, an anti-immigrant, anti-European Union party that wants to ditch the euro currency, secured the biggest share of votes — 27.7 percent — in the first-round ballot last Sunday.
With two days until the final ballot, and latest opinion polls suggesting a very tight contest with the National Front slightly behind in its key regions, Le Pen dismissed Valls' civil war salvo as a "delirious outburst."
"Let me remind the prime minister that the war being waged against France today is being waged by Islamist fundamentalists bottle-fed by a laxist, sectarian Socialist Party," she said.
Le Pen came in first in the opening round with more than 40 percent of the vote in the northern region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie.
Her niece, Marion Marechal-Le-Pen, likewise topped the vote in a key southeastern region that includes the Riviera coast called Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur.
Since then, the third-place Socialist Party has pulled out of the race in both those key regions, urging its supporters to back Nicolas Sarkozy's Republicans in Sunday's 13 runoffs.
Polls published on Wednesday and Thursday suggested that Valls' drastic electoral tactics might work, with their conservative adversaries pulling ahead in the runoff round.