Tens of thousands march against far-right in France

Tens of thousands of people across France on Saturday marched against "attacks on freedoms" and what organisers said was a growing influence of far-right ideas ahead of next year's presidential elections.

Tens of thousands march against far-right in France
A "Freedom march" called by several organisations, associations and trade unions to "combat extreme right-wing ideas" on June 12. credit: SAMEER AL-DOUMY / AFP

Members of more than 100 left-leaning organisations participated in the “Liberty March” in cities and towns across the country.

The protests were the first opportunity for a divided left to take to the streets after a year and a half of Covid-19 restrictions.

Organisers reported 70,000 participants in Paris and 150,000 around the nation, while the Paris police and interior ministry put the numbers at 9,000 in the capital and 37,000 nationwide.

The interior ministry said 119 rallies had taken place.

In Nantes, western France, around 900 people rallied, according to the local prefecture, including scores of far-left militants who clashed with police.

In the Mediterranean port of Marseilles, more than a thousand demonstrators marched behind a CGT union banner that called for “unity to break down the capitalism that leads to fascism”.

Protesters vented against issues ranging from recent legislation they say chips away at liberties, such as a law that could see prosecutions for publishing images of police officers in action, to what they charge is a creep of far-right ideas into the mainstream ahead of next year’s elections.

In the southern city of Toulouse, a 54-year-old teacher and union activist who gave his name as Gauthier remarked that students had begun to challenge him and warned that “extreme right ideas are gaining ground”.

Far-right ideas “are no longer the monopoly of far-right parties and … have now largely penetrated the political class,” said Benoit Hamon, the Socialist presidential candidate in 2017.

In Paris, far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon had flour thrown in his face as he spoke to reporters.

A suspect arrested later in the day claimed to be a “sovereigntist” who social network specialists said broadcast far-right commentary on YouTube.

The move against Melenchon, who has been accused of fuelling conspiracy theories ahead of the presidential election, came days after President Emmanuel Macron was slapped in the face while shaking hands with people on a regional visit.

Other events that have caused concern in France recently are allegations of ties between far-left figures including Melenchon and Islamists, a YouTube video that simulated the execution of a militant from his France Unbowed party, and university gatherings at which Caucasian participants were allegedly not allowed to speak.

Jordan Bardella, vice president of the far-right National Rally (RN) party, dismissed the demonstrations on Saturday as a bid to deflect attention from Melenchon’s remarks on terrorism and the 2022 presidential election.

Groups that took part included Socialists, Communists, ecologists and trade unions.

READ MORE: Calls for nationwide day of demonstrations in France against ‘far-right ideology’

Member comments

  1. “Far-right ideas “are no longer the monopoly of far-right parties and … have now largely penetrated the political class,” said Benoit Hamon, the Socialist presidential candidate in 2017.”
    Perhaps that is because it is reflecting the average person’s wish to get on with life without being attacked and harangued by Socialists, Communists, ecologists and trade unions and their thugs perfumed by self-righteousness and a conceit that allows them to override a democratically elected government.

    1. Oooh, someone’s all grumpy. Do you ask these monsters who personally attack and harangue you which category of undesirable they belong to, or are you just generally cross about stuff?

      “Average people’ aren’t generally mental and shouty…..

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Why are French police demonstrating in Paris?

Thousands of police officers will gather in front of the French parliament on Wednesday to protest over violent attacks in recent months. Several politicians including interior minister Gérald Darmanin will be present to show their support.

Why are French police demonstrating in Paris?
Members of French police unions including Alliance Police nationale hold a banner reading 'no police, no peace' during a protest on the Champs-Elysees Avenue on June 12, 2020 in Paris. Photo: Thomas SAMSON / AFP

Recent police killings and terrorist attacks have contributed to growing fear of crime, while growing demonstrations against police violence have ramped up the tensions around the role of the French police force, posing questions about police brutality and racism.

Why are they protesting?

The police complain that the state is not doing enough to protect them as they take the fight to drug gangs and radical Islamists.

Two violent attacks in recent months have caused shock among police. Earlier this month, 36-year-old police officer Eric Masson was killed while investigating a drug-dealing spot in Avignon. In April, a female administrative assistant for the police was fatally stabbed in at a police station in Rambouillet, a town in the suburbs of Paris.

A press release published by the unions on Tuesday stated:

“After the tragedies that have struck our institution, we have decided to call a rally on Wednesday, May 19. The aim is for the population to express its support to its republican police force, which is engaged daily on the ground in the service of maintaining peace.”

“As shown by the very large support we have received, security transcends political cleavages. This rally will therefore not be the platform of any party or any member of the government. It will be that of the population and its police force, in front of the parliament that votes the laws that are necessary for the safety of all citizens.”

Polls show crime is a top political issue ahead of presidential elections next year in which Macron is expected to seek a second term.

ANALYSIS: Are crime rates really spiralling in France?

 The demonstration is to remind deputies “that they must step up and legislate to make sure what has just happened doesn’t happen again”, said Fabien Vanhemelryck, the head of the Alliance police union.

Patrice Ribeiro, who heads the Synergie Officers union, said “everyday low-level violence” had to be met with the full force of existing laws because “that is how a feeling of impunity starts and grows”.

What kind of a demonstration have they planned?

According to French media, the “Marche citoyenne” or citizen’s march, as it is being called, will be a static demonstration.

A platform has been set up on the Quai d’Orsay where speeches will take place and a series of videos will be shown on a big screen. There will also be a singing of la Marseillaise and a minute of silence for Eric Masson.

Who will be attending?

The demonstration, set to start at 1pm, is organised by the three main police unions – Unité SGP police, Alliance and Unsa police.

The unions said anyone can join the protest, predicting that 30,000 people would do so, but no politician would be allowed to address the crowd, they said in a joint statement.

However, several politicians have said they will be attending, including interior minister Gérald Darmanin, who said he would turn up to show his support.

“Their anger is legitimate. Particularly when they have are being attacked constantly by a part of the media, when they have been on the front line of the fight against terrorism for the past ten years and have also had to deal with the violence of a part of the gilets jaunes every Saturday for a year, with more than 8,000 police officers injured.

“And now with these attacks and these shameful murders in Rambouillet and Avignon, I can understand their anger,” Darmanin told BFMTV.

The presidential candidate for the Communist Party, Fabrien Roussel and the vice-president of the far right Rassemblement national, Jordan Bardella, will also be attending.

According to France Inter, RN leader Marine Le Pen will not be present but offered her support.

Why is there so much tension around the role of the police in France?

The police themselves have come in for increasing criticism in recent months, with demonstrations against police violence and systemic racism attracting large turnouts.

Last summer, thousands of people in Paris gathered to remember the 2016 death of 24-year-old Adama Traoré, who died after a police stop. Campaigners say people of colour like Adama are frequently harrassed or even attacked by the police, and in November 2020 a video of police beating up a black music producer in Paris caused widespread horror.

OPINION: Are French police racist? Yes, some of them

There are also repeated claims of police violence against demonstrators and plans for a new security bill that would limit the rights to film or photograph police officers also prompted widespread protests across the country.