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POLITICS

French police on alert as far-right Zemmour holds first rally

French far-right presidential candidate Eric Zemmour is to hold his first official campaign rally at a stadium outside Paris on Sunday, with police on high alert over the risk of clashes with protesters.

French police on alert as far-right Zemmour holds first rally
Eric Zemmour on a visit to Marseille, a city he describes as "the anti-example", "disintegrated by immigration". Photo: Christophe Simon / AFP

Zemmour, a 63-year-old author and television pundit, announced on Tuesday that he would run in next April’s election, joining the field of challengers seeking to unseat centrist President Emmanuel Macron. His first rally comes just a day after the right-wing Republicans party picked Valérie Pécresse, a former budget minister, as its nominee.

“It’s incredible the level of enthusiasm, while other candidates have been in half-empty rooms,” Antoine Diers, a spokesman for the Friends of Eric Zemmour group, told AFP on Friday. “We’re expecting a lot of people.”

Around 19,000 people have signed up for the event, according to Zemmour’s campaign, leading him to swap a concert hall for a larger capacity exhibition space in the Villepinte suburb northeast of the capital.

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Police are on alert for far-left activists and anarchists who disrupted Zemmour’s trip last weekend to the southern of port city of Marseille, which ended with the candidate showing the middle finger to a woman who was protesting. Around 50 trade union and civil society groups have also called for a demonstration in Paris to denounce Zemmour, an anti-Islam and anti-immigration polemicist who is sometimes called “France’s Trump” and has two convictions for hate speech.

Several thousand people are expected to gather. Stephane Troussel, the Socialist head of the Seine-Saint-Denis region,
where Zemmour’s rally will take place, also launched a petition calling for the rally to be cancelled.

Momentum fades

The event will be closely scrutinised given how Zemmour has been falling in opinion polls following a dramatic entrance into French politics in September.

Until now, he had been travelling the country doing promotional events for his latest book — “France has not said its final word” — which served as a thinly disguised pre-campaign tour.

As well as a series 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 make a more competent president than Zemmour, who is viewed as highly divisive and arrogant by a large majority.

The latest surveys suggest he would be eliminated in the first round if the election were held now, with Macron tipped 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 highly unusual video posted on YouTube, which saw him read a speech into an old-fashioned microphone while seated at a desk and barely looking into the camera.

It was intended to recall the famous June 1940 address by war hero General Charles De Gaulle to carry on with resistance to the Nazi occupation of France.

Over images of riots, Islamic prayers and terror attacks, Zemmour warned that France was in danger of being “conquered” or “colonised” by immigrants and that French people were being “replaced.”

His friend Robert Menard, a far-right mayor of the southern town of Beziers and an influential figure in far-right circles, called the rally on Sunday “an audacious bet. He needs to pull it off.”

Menard described the YouTube video as being of “apocalyptic darkness” and said Zemmour would need to begin outlining concrete proposals.

During a prime-time interview on Tuesday evening, Zemmour complained that he had not been asked about his programme, reportedly insulting anchor Gilles Bouleau afterwards for questioning him about his past comments on women and Muslims.

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UKRAINE

Macron, Scholz and Draghi meet Ukrainian president in Kyiv

French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi have met the Ukrainian president in Kyiv, after the trio travelled overnight by train from Poland.

Macron, Scholz and Draghi meet Ukrainian president in Kyiv

The three leaders left in the early hours of Thursday, arriving into Kyiv on Thursday morning. After a visit to the heavily-bombed town of Irpin, they met Ukraine’s leader Volodymyr Zelensky.

It is the first time that the leaders of the three European Union countries have visited Kyiv since Russia’s February 24th invasion of Ukraine, and the visit comes as Kyiv is pushing for membership of the EU.

Macron has been paying a two-day visit to Romania and Moldova to discuss the ongoing crisis caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

There had been widespread speculation in France that he would combine the trip with a visit to Zelensky in Ukraine, but this was not confirmed until Thursday morning.

In a joint press conference with Romanian president Klaus Iohannis, Macron reiterated his desire that Ukraine should win the war, but added that eventually negotiations between Ukraine and Russia will be necessary.

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