France's Socialist prime minister warned on Friday of a slide towards "civil war" if the far-right National Front wins power in regional polls this weekend as a stepping stone towards 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-EU party which wants to ditch the euro currency, secured the biggest number of votes - 27.7 percent - in the first round ballot last Sunday.
With two days to the final ballot, and latest opinion polls suggesting a very tight contest with the FN slightly behind in its key regions, Marine 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 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 (PACA).
Since then, the third-placed Socialist Party has pulled out of the race in both those key regions, urging its supporters to back Nicolas Sarkozy's Republicans in the Dec. 13 run-offs.
Polls published on Wednesday and Thursday however suggest that Valls' drastic electoral tactics might work, with their conservative adversaries pulling ahead in the runoff round.