PARIS (Reuters) – French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal on Thursday accused his main challenger for the top job, Jordan Bardella, of tolerating racist speech in the ranks of his far-right camp amid a heated last television debate before the start of parliamentary elections.

The debate between Attal, National Rally (RN) party chief Bardella and socialist leader Olivier Faure was the last direct confrontation of three radically opposed views on France’s future before ballots open for the first voting round on Sunday.

“You can’t build peace and unity when you present … more than a hundred candidates who have been accused of making racist remarks”, Attal told Bardella, reading out press reports of the politicians using racial slurs.

“Each and every one of us must always be uncompromising with hate speech, because if we are not uncompromising, we end up legitimising it,” he said.

Bardella, whose party is leading in opinion polls and could emerge the dominant political power in the country for the first time, rebuffed the accusations, shouting “This is false!” at his adversary.

“I don’t like this way of associating a pseudo-climate of hatred with the National Rally electorate”, Bardella said later in the debate.

Reports of assaults motivated by race, homophobia and political allegiance in the run-up to the election has added to France’s already tense social climate less then a month before Paris hosts the world for the Olympics.

In an unexpected move earlier this month, President Emmanuel Macron dissolved parliament and called the election after his centrist alliance was crushed in European elections. The outcome will be known after a second round of voting on July 7.

Seeking to present his leftwing alliance, the New Popular Front, as an alternative to those opposing Macron’s pro-business agenda without shifting to the right, Faure called for a change of wealth distribution.

Citing recent protest movements over cost-of-living issues like the “yellow vests” and farmers, as well as anger over a recent raise of the retirement age, Faure said:

“It is possible to reject the idea that there are people who through all the crises manage to get richer and richer, while others … struggle to make ends meet.”

(Reporting by Tassilo Hummel, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)