• France's news in English

Tens of thousands march for leftist candidate

AFP · 19 Mar 2012, 08:26

Published: 19 Mar 2012 08:26 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Tens of thousands marched in Paris on Sunday to support firebrand leftist presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who has shaken up France's election campaign with a surprise jump in the polls.

Mélenchon of the Front de Gauche (Left Front), who represents a coalition of leftist parties including the Communists, has emerged as a significant factor in the campaign just as Socialist frontrunner François Hollande faces a resurgent threat from incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy.

His virulent attacks on the rich, France's elite and austerity measures have struck a chord with many voters, and polls this week showed him rising above the symbolic 10 percent mark, up four points from the start of the year, with only five weeks to go before the April 22nd first round of voting.

Decrying a France "disfigured by inequality," Mélenchon called for a "civic insurrection" as he addressed a sea of supporters in Place de la Bastille.

Waving red Front de Gauche and Communist Party flags, tens of thousands of supporters marched through central Paris under cloudy skies in a symbolic rally to "retake the Bastille" -- the square where the mediaeval fortress and prison was stormed in the watershed event of the French Revolution.

Organisers said more than 100,000 people took part in the rally, held on the anniversary of the Paris Commune uprising of 1871.

"We have returned, the people of France's revolutions and rebellions. We are the red flag!" Mélenchon roared to the crowd, saying the rally marked the start of a "citizens' revolution."

In a 20-minute speech, Mélenchon outlined a programme focused on taxing the rich and financial world, boosting social spending and increasing workers' rights.

He also vowed constitutional changes enshrining the rights to abortion, to homosexual marriage and a "green rule" forcing France to protect the environment.

To chants of his name, Mélenchon vowed to "open a new chapter" in France's history and offered support to the peoples of Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy, who he said were "under the weight of oppression" from European austerity measures.

"We must today, in this France that has been disfigured by inequality ... refound the republic, refound France itself," he said, before his speech ended with the singing of left-wing anthem "The Internationale" and the French national anthem.

"Mélenchon represents the only political force that truly represents the French people," supporter Sylvianne Tardieu, a 50-year-old Communist from the central city of Clermont-Ferrand, said at the rally.

"He is fighting against the world of finance for the French people," she said.

Organisers hailed the rally, where marchers carried placards reading "Take Power!" and "The Citizens' Revolution Is on the March," as a major step forward in Mélenchon's campaign.

"This is a big success, it's the biggest public gathering of the election campaign so far," Mélenchon advisor Eric Coquerel told BFM television.

"We can go much higher," he said of Mélenchon's poll numbers. "Our campaign is gaining credibility. ... We are targeting the second round."

The latest IFOP poll released Sunday showed Mélenchon with 11 percent support in the first round.

It also showed right-wing Sarkozy, who this week for the first time moved ahead of Hollande in first-round intentions, with 27.5 percent of the vote compared to 27 percent for his Socialist rival.

Hollande, the longstanding poll-leader, was still forecast to comfortably win the May 6th second round with 54 percent to 46 percent for Sarkozy.

Sensing the threat on his left flank, Hollande has suggested to left-wing voters that a vote for Mélenchon could hand victory to the right.

"Every vote is useful," Hollande said when asked about Mélenchon's surge this week. "I do not want to question this or that choice by voters, but everyone must understand what is at stake."

But Mélenchon's supporters rejected the idea that voting for the candidate could lead to a victory for Sarkozy.

"We are pushing ideas for change," Sebastien Goyard, a 27-year-old social security worker from Paris, said during the march.

"If we don't vote with our principles in the first round, change is not possible," he said.

Mélenchon, a 60-year-old former Socialist minister and senator, split with the party in 2008 to found his own party and was elected to the European Parliament in 2009.


Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
French MPs vote to make Airbnb 'professionals' pay tax
Photo: AFP

Do you make a lot of money through Airbnb in France? You'll have to pay a share to the taxman in future.

France and Britain accused of abandoning Calais minors
Photo: AFP

Scores of young migrants are forced to sleep rough for a second night.

France given wake up call as it bids for Brexit business
The business district 'La Defense' in Paris. Photo: AFP

France clearly has some work to do if it really wants to pinch business from the UK post-Brexit.

Mouth fun? French words you just can't translate literally
Do you know the French word for throat-support? Photo: AFP

Word of warning: Don't translate French literally.

How France plans to help its stressed-out police force
Yellow smoke rises around French police officers in Paris holding a banner reading "Solidarity with our colleagues, police angry". All photos: AFP

Could these measures stop the cops from protesting?

'3,000 migrants dispersed' after 'Jungle' clearance
Photo: AFP

While thousands of migrants have been bussed out around France, new ones are arriving all the time and thousands of others have simply been dispersed aid agencies say.

Fifteen of the most bizarre laws in France
Photo: Matthew Powell/Flickr

A must read for anyone who wants to stay on the right side of the law in France.

Medieval town in south of France upholds ban on UFOs
The town of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Photo: Aa77zz/Flickr

Aliens take note.

American tourist dies at French Riviera sex club
The Riviera resort of Cannes. Photo: AFP

American tourist reportedly fell five floors after being pushed outside the underground sex club in Cannes.

Paris: 'Flying' water taxis to be tested on River Seine
Photo: SeaBubbles

An in Seine idea surely? But tests will go ahead.

The annoying questions only a half French, half Brit can answer
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Forget Brangelina's chateau - here are nine others you've got to see
The must-see French films of the millennium - Part One
How life for expats in France has changed over the years
Why Toulouse is THE place to be in France right now
Video: New homage to Paris shows the 'real side' of city
The 'most dangerous' animals you can find in France
Swap London fogs for Paris frogs: France woos the Brits
Anger after presenter kisses woman's breasts on live TV
Is France finally set for a cold winter this year?
IN PICS: The story of the 'ghost Metro stations' of Paris
How to make France's 'most-loved' dish: Magret de Canard
Welcome to the flipside: 'I'm not living the dream in France'
Do the French really still eat frogs' legs?
French 'delicacies' foreigners really find hard to stomach
French are the 'world's most pessimistic' about the future
Why the French should not be gloomy about the future
This is the most useful French lesson you will ever have. How to get angry
Why is there a giant clitoris in a field in southern France?
French pastry wars: Pain au chocolat versus chocolatine
Countdown: The ten dishes the French love the most
Expats or immigrants in France: Is there a difference?
How the French reinvented dozens of English words
jobs available