Chairs were thrown at left-wing activists who stood up in ‘No to racism’ t-shirts during Eric Zemmour’s campaign speech.
French far-right presidential candidate Eric Zemmour launched his presidential campaign in front of thousands of cheering supporters at an event in Paris that was marred by fighting during his speech.
Zemmour, a 63-year-old writer and veteran television commentator, announced Tuesday that he will run in next April’s election and join the field of challengers seeking to oust centrist President Emmanuel Macron.
He held his first event at an exhibition center in a suburb of Paris where thousands applauded every mention of the reduction of immigration and yelled loudly at every reference to Macron.
“The input is huge: if I win, it will be the start to win back the most beautiful country in the world,” Zemmour told the crowd.
The break out
Fighting broke out and chairs were thrown at activists as they stood up with “No to racism” written on their t-shirts, with at least two of them watching bleeding as they were thrown out of the auditorium.
A crew of the popular but critical Quotidien Evening TV news program was also yelled at and removed by security, with hostility towards the media a feature of the speeches at the event.
The rally was seen as an opportunity for Zemmour to regain momentum after opinion polls showed support for him declined over the past month as he tried to maintain tension over his intentions.
Zemmour, who has two convictions for hate speech, claimed there were 15,000 people at the rally, although organizers had previously spoken of 12,000.
Polls show voters currently believe that Marine Le Pen, the veteran leader of the far-right National Rally party, will make a more capable president than Zemmour.
The latest polls suggest he would be eliminated in the first round if the election were held now, with Macron able to win ahead of Le Pen, but analysts have warned that the outcome remains highly uncertain.
The crowd at the rally – of all ages, but with far more men than women – responded most enthusiastically to Zemmour’s rhetoric on immigration, race and Islam.
He promised to reduce immigration to near zero if elected, dramatically intensifying the naturalization process, and expelling failed asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants.
Zemmour again stressed the danger of French people being “replaced” by immigrants, reflecting a theory known as the “great substitute” popular under white supremacy.
France’s right-wing Republican party on Saturday elected Paris region boss Valerie Pecresse as its nominee after a by-election dominated by talks on immigration and crime.
Massive police presence
Police were on the lookout for far-left activists and anarchists who disrupted Zemmour’s trip to the southern port city of Marseille last weekend, ending with the candidate pointing the middle finger at a woman protesting.
Riot police gathered outside the arena and searched people’s suitcases when they arrived.
In Paris, about 2,000 people marched to protest a candidacy condemned as racist and divisive.
“It is important to show that we will not allow fascism to gain ground,” Simon Duteil, a spokesman for the Solidaires trade union, told AFP news agency.
In addition to a series of recent missteps, including the middle finger incident, Zemmour has seen several influential figures on the far-right see him distancing himself, including his main financial supporter.