A move by France's ruling Socialists to ban the far-right National Front from a peace march for Charlie Hebdo shooting victims may backfire, forcing undecided voters to choose between Marine Le Pen and her rivals amid fear of Islamist attacks.
President Francois Hollande's Socialists called this week for a show of national unity on Sunday in support of Charlie Hebdo and media freedom days after gunmen stormed into the satirical weekly's office in an attack that killed 12 people.
But the mood of unity lasted just hours, as the march's organizer said there would be "no room" for the anti-EU, anti-immigration National Front.
Le Pen's party won the highest score of any in European parliamentary elections last May and several polls suggest she could reach the runoff round of a 2017 presidential election.
"The idea of national unity has been totally undermined, and we will face up to the consequences," Le Pen told Le Monde newspaper, calling the move to exclude her from a group of politicians to lead the march a "pitiful political maneuver."
Socialist Party leader Jean-Christophe Cambadelis later qualified the FN ban saying "anyone who wanted to and felt concerned" could participate. And Hollande met with Le Pen as well as other party leaders at his offices, as hundreds of police faced off with suspected shooters in an industrial facility northeast of Paris.
But analysts said the damage had been done, with Le Pen set to reap gains from her exclusion and willingness to use strong words to describe the attack, ahead of two local elections this year in which the Socialists are seen suffering further defeats.