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French presidential race irrevocably altered by Toulouse killings

Jean-paul Pelissier / Reuters

A masked special unit policeman looks out of one of the ground floor windows of the apartment where gunman Mohamed Merah had been holed up, in Toulouse, France on March 23, 2012. Merah died in a hail of bullets on Thursday as he scrambled out of a ground-floor window during a gunbattle with elite police commandos.

Eric Feferberg / AFP - Getty Images

France's incumbent President and UMP candidate for the 2012 presidential election Nicolas Sarkozy delivers a speech in Strasbourg on March 22, 2012.

As police investigators continue to search the apartment in Toulouse where a 30-hour siege ended in a cacophony of gunfire on Thursday, attention is turning to the effect events of the past two weeks will have on French politics.

France's presidential election race has resumed irrevocably altered by the killing of Mohamed Merah, an al Qaeda-inspired gunman whose murders have shifted the political debate in favor of incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy. 

The young self-styled Islamist's crimes spread fear, triggered an emotive debate about immigration and integration, and gave Sarkozy a small bounce in the polls as he sought to close the gap behind Socialist rival Francois Hollande.

With only one month left to go before the first round of the election, Merah's influence is likely to endure.

"Of course what has happened in the past week has changed the course of events," a senior Sarkozy campaign adviser said on Thursday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"There wasn't much talk about security and terrorism before. But this is going to raise questions about our system of integration, our approach to fundamentalism and our tolerance of certain practices here. You're going to hear a lot about that in the weeks to come," he said. Continue reading.

-- Reuters contributed to this post