French police in Paris were on high alert in Paris Sunday.
They feared violent clashes between far-left and anti-racism protesters and supporters of the controversial far-right presidential candidate Eric Zemmour who was holding his first campaign rally outside the capital
Whilst there was no mass trouble there was enough incidents to worry French authorities and the public about what might lie ahead over the next few months during what promises to be a highly divisive election campaign.
Firstly a man appeared to lunge at Zemmour as he walked through the crowd to get to the stage. His motives were not clear but it left the anti-Islam, anti-immigration candidate with a wrist injury.
Then in scenes many commenters said were reminiscent of a Donald Trump rally, supporters of Zemmour assaulted several anti-racism protestors when they stood on chairs to reveal T-shirts spelling out ‘Non au Racisme‘.
Punches were thrown along with chairs whilst one supporter of Zemmour was seen hitting on of the female protesters. The protesters from SOS Racisme were chased out of the venue with at least two of them seen bleeding from wounds.
A crew from the popular but critical Quotidien nightly TV news show were also booed and removed by security, with hostility to the media a feature of the speeches at the event. Journalists from investigative site Mediapart reported that they were assaulted by Zemmour’s followers.
In all 62 people were detained, including the man who grabbed the far-right candidate.
Reactions to the violence and the possibility of further trouble has been mixed.
Sunday’s violence is yet the latest example of controversy to have shone a global spotlight on Zemmour’s campaign – this is probably just what the candidate wanted.
“Zemmour has a very successful media operation,” said Claire Sécail, a social scientist specialising in political communication.
“He plays the devil card to capture media attention. We can see that it has propelled him into the public eye.”
Current polls place Zemmour third after Emmanuel Macron and between Marine Le Pen. He would have to gain at least seven percentage points in public support to stand a chance of making the second round of the 2022 presidential election.
It is yet to be seen whether Zemmour will even collect enough signatures of support (parrainages) from elected officials to be able to legally run for the presidency.