File photo taken on Feb. 4, 2017 shows French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron addressing a campaign rally in Lyon,France. Centrist candidate and former minister of economy Emmanuel Macron and far-right candidate Marine Le Pen on Sunday came out on top in the first round of the French presidential election, according to projections by several pollsters. (Xinhua/Han Bing)
AMIENS, April 26 (Xinhua) -- French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron's expected Wednesday trip to Amiens, his birthplace in the north of France where a Whirlpool factory is threatened with closure, was skewed by a surprise visit of his rival for the French presidency Marine Le Pen.
She met with workers in the parking lot, setting up a duel of images between the two candidates for the presidential election on May 7.
The tension has risen a notch in the campaign between the two rounds of voting. The candidate for the extreme-right traveled Wednesday to the Whirlpool site in Amiens while, a few kilometers away, Macron spoke, as planned, with union delegates from the enterprise.
Three months ago, the U.S. electric appliances group announced that it would relocate production from the site in Amiens to Poland in June 2018 and close the clothes-dryer factory which employs close to 290 people. Some 60 employees have been on strike since Monday, even as this region of northern France has struck by numerous industrial site closures.
"I am here at the sides of the employees, in the parking lot, not in the restaurants of Amiens," said Le Pen, who defended herself against having made a "publicity coup."
"I am here in my place, exactly here where I must be, among the employees of Whirlpool who resist this savage globalization, this shameful economic model," she insisted, "I am not in the process of eating with a few representatives who in reality represent only themselves."
Le Pen had herself photographed alongside the workers, taking selfies during the brief half-hour that her visit lasted. She promised that if she was elected, the Whirlpool factory would not close.
Whirlpool management quickly criticized, in a written statement, "the politicalization of an industrial case."
Macron responded by saying he would meet with workers of the company in the afternoon. "Le Pen has come to Amiens because I was coming. Welcome to her. But Le Pen has not understood how the country functions and we have definitively not the same ambition, nor the same project," he said.
He added: "I want everyone to take into account that Le Pen's thinking fixes nothing in the situation of Whirlpool, which needs to find a buyer."
Macron as he arrived on site was welcomed by whistling and shouting, sometimes booed and amid cries of "Marine President." The former minister of the economy was shouted at by workers reproaching him for being the "candidate of globalization."
Despite the initial chaos, Macron was finally able to speak with a group of workers in the parking lot of the factory. "I am not promising the earth, I don't make untenable promises. I will not tell you that I will nationalize Whirlpool. That would not resolve your problem," he said.
Since the announcement of the first round results on Sunday, Macron, 39, has been judged "too triumphant," attracting even a warning from President Fancois Hollande.
The founder of the En Marche movement is scheduled to hold a meeting Wednesday night in Arras, in the north of France.