Europe

They’re off: Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Eric Zemmour launch French presidential bids


Firebrands on the right and left kicked off their campaigns for France’s presidential election Sunday, with the far left’s Jean-Luc Mélenchon and far-right neophyte Eric Zemmour rallying supporters with radical alternatives to centrist incumbent Emmanuel Macron.

Zemmour’s rally north of Paris attracted the most attention and chaos, as videos show his supporters throwing punches at anti-racism campaigners protesting the event. A TV crew was also briefly escorted out by security after appearing to be threatened by the crowd.

The controversial author and TV pundit has come from nowhere to third place in opinion polls, trailing Macron and the radical right’s established standard-bearer Marine Le Pen ahead of the April election.

At Sunday’s rally, Zemmour announced he’d launched a new party called Reconquête, French for “reconquest.”

“The reconquest is now underway. The reconquest of our economy, the reconquest of our security, the reconquest of our identity, the reconquest of our sovereignty, the reconquest of our country,” Zemmour said, according to Le Monde.

He pledged to “immediately” stop immigration into France, including by drastically limiting the right of asylum, and to “abolish” the right to family reunification for migrants, Le Parisien reported.

His speech was greeted by flag-waving crowds. A man also appeared to grab Zemmour around the neck as he arrived in the hall, though it wasn’t immediately clear whether he was a protester or a fan.

At his own rally earlier, Mélénchon, leader of the leftist France Unbowed movement, kicked off his third bid for the presidency.

Attended by some 3,000 people, the leftist leader billed his candidacy as a “popular” alternative to counter the right. “France is not the far-right — France is social security, public health, emancipation, school, research, sharing,” Mélenchon said.

Although polling only around 9 percent, Mélenchon says he has a chance to make it into the election’s second round of voting. “It all depends on the working-class neighborhoods, whether they go out and vote,” he said in an interview ahead of the rally.

Zemmour’s meeting came the day after the center-right Les Républicains party voted to choose Valérie Pécresse as its first female candidate for president. Zemmour called on supporters of the mainstream center right to join him if they were dissatisfied with that choice.

Les Républicains’ leader Christian Jacob criticized Zemmour for holding his rally without requiring certificates of COVID-19 immunity or social distancing at his rally.




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