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French police arrest two over plans for 'violent attack' on election

Presidential candidates, including Marine Le Pen, were warned about the 'radicalised' suspects last week
The suspects, Clement Baur (L) and Mahiedine Merabet (AFP)

Two Frenchmen arrested in Marseille on Tuesday planned to carry out an "imminent and violent attack" before the first round of the presidential election on Sunday, France's interior minister said.

The pair, who police said were seized in the southern port city a few moments apart from each other, were “radicalised” French nationals aged 24 and 30, the minister, Matthias Fekl, said.

The suspects were identified by police as Clement Baur and Mahiedine Merabet.

Authorities found guns and bomb-making materials during searches in Marseille after the arrest of two men, sources close to the probe said.

The sources asked not to be named because they were not authorised to speak publicly.

"These two radicalised men ... intended to commit in the very short-term - by that I mean in the coming days - an attack on French soil," Fekl told a news conference.

A definite attack had been headed off, he said.

France goes to the polls to choose a new president on 23 April and 7 May in a two-stage election.

Soldiers secure the street as police conduct an investigation after the suspects were arrested in Marseille, 18 April (Reuters)

National security figures high on the agenda in the ballot after attacks by militants across France have killed more than 230 people in the past two years.

With the country still under a state of emergency, Fekl said more than 50,000 police, gendarmes and soldiers would be deployed for each leg of the election.

"Everything has been put in place to ensure the security of this big event for our democracy and our republic. The security forces are mobilised everywhere across France to ensure the security of French people and to ensure the presidential campaign goes smoothly," he said.

Last week, photos of the two suspects were distributed to the security teams for far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron.

"The photos were passed to my security service from Thursday," Le Pen told AFP, while an aide to Macron also confirmed his campaign team received the pictures.

Le Pen is scheduled to hold the last big rally of her campaign in Marseille this week, according to her programme.

Conservative candidate Francois Fillon was also warned about the danger on Friday, an aide said.