French far-right candidate Zemmour’s first presidential campaign rally puts police on alert
Thousands of supporters of French far-right presidential candidate Éric Zemmour gathered in an exhibition hall outside Paris on Sunday to kick off their first official campaign rally, with police on high alert for the risk of clashes with the counter-protesters.
Zemmour, a 63-year-old author and television expert, officially announced on Tuesday that he would run in the upcoming April elections, joining the camp of challengers seeking to topple centrist President Emmanuel Macron.
Waving French flags and shouting “President Zezu!” or singing the national anthem, La Marseillaise, Zemmour fans waited with flyers proclaiming that his anti-immigrant candidacy would ensure “that France remains French.”
The rally is also an opportunity for Zemmour to regain momentum after stumbling in opinion polls following his dramatic entry into French politics in September.
“We hope that announcing his candidacy and this meeting will relaunch it a bit,” said Maxence Mike, 22, a student from the Parisian suburb of Montargis and a member of the Generation Z association.
“There is an unrest in France, a crisis of civilizations and security problems, and for now he is the only one with the courage to tackle these problems clearly,” said Jacques Ohana, a 65-year-old surgeon from Paris, who noted that: like Zemmour, he has North African origins.
About 19,000 people signed up for the event, according to Zemmour’s campaign, prompting him to trade a concert hall for a larger-capacity exhibition space in the northeast suburb of Villepinte.
Police are on alert for far-left activists and anarchists, who disrupted Zemmour’s trip south of the port city of Marseille last weekend. The trip ended with the candidate showing his middle finger to a protesting woman.
Riot police gathered outside the arena and searched people’s bags as they arrived. In Paris, a few hundred people marched to protest a candidacy denounced as racist and divisive.
“It is important to show that we will not let fascism gain ground,” Simon Duteil, a spokesman for the Solidaires union, told AFP.
The urge fades
Zemmour has been traveling the country holding promotional events for his latest book – “France Hasn’t Said Its Last Word” – which also served as a thinly disguised pre-campaign tour.
In addition to a number of recent missteps, including the middle finger incident, Zemmour has seen several influential figures on the far right distance themselves from him, including his main financial backer.
Polls show that voters currently believe Marine Le Pen, the veteran leader of the far-right National Rally party, would be a more competent president than Zemmour, who is viewed as highly divisive and arrogant by a large majority.
The latest polls suggest that he would be eliminated in the first round if elections were held now, with Macron inclined to win ahead of Le Pen, but analysts warn that the outcome remains highly uncertain.
Zemmour launched his bid for the presidency on Tuesday in a very unusual video posted on YouTube, which saw him read a speech on an antique microphone while sitting at a desk and barely looking at the camera.
It was intended to recall the famous June 1940 speech by war hero General Charles De Gaulle to continue resistance to the Nazi occupation of France.
On images of riots, Islamic prayers and terrorist attacks, Zemmour warned that France was in danger of being “conquered” or “colonized” by immigrants and that the French were being “replaced.”
His friend Robert Ménard, a far-right mayor of the southern city of Béziers and an influential figure in far-right circles, called Sunday’s rally “a bold gamble”, adding: “You need to carry it out.”
Ménard described the YouTube video as encapsulating an “apocalyptic darkness” and said Zemmour would need to start outlining concrete proposals if he wants to become a viable presidential candidate.
( Jowharwith AFP)