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Le Pen shrugs off yet another defection in battle for French far-right

Veteran French far-right politician Marine Le Pen shrugged off another defection from her party to rival Eric Zemmour on Sunday amid an increasingly bitter battle ahead of presidential elections in April.

Le Pen shrugs off yet another defection in battle for French far-right
French presidential candidate Eric Zemmour (R) next to French lawyer Gilbert Collard following his defection from National Assembly. Photo: Bertrand Guar/AFP

One-time Le Pen ally and confidant Gilbert Collard formally announced Saturday that he was joining Zemmour’s team and appeared at a rally alongside the anti-Islam writer and pundit in the south of France.

The European MP follows two other anti-immigration hardliners from Le Pen’s National Rally party to join Zemmour in the last week: fellow MEP Jerome Riviere and senior party official Damien Rieu.

“I don’t pay much attention to all these little manoeuvres between politicians because all of my energies are directed towards the issues of French people,” Le Pen told France 3 television on Sunday.

A new poll published on Saturday showed President Emmanuel Macron winning the first round of the election on April 10 with 25 percent, followed by Le Pen and right-winger Valerie Pecresse from the Republicans party on 15.5 percent each.

The poll by the Ipsos-Sopra Steria group, with a large sample size of 12,500 people, showed Zemmour trailing in fourth place on 13 percent.

The top two candidates in the first round go through to a run-off, where Macron was seen winning against Le Pen by 57-43 percent and against Pecresse by a narrower 54-46 percent, the poll showed.

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‘Kebab shop’

Zemmour is hoping that a string of defections this month, including by the former number two of the Republicans party, Guillaume Peltier, can help him reinvigorate a campaign that is seen by analysts as stagnating.

Speaking in Cannes on Saturday night in front of a crowd of around 4,000 people, he focused on his core issues of crime, Islam and what he sees as out-of-control immigration.

“I don’t want a kebab shop in every village,” he declared.

Le Pen said it was “coherent” that the defectors from her party had turned against her as she seeks to present a more moderate image to the electorate.

“Since the start of the campaign they have criticised my decision to make purchasing power my priority,” she said, contrasting it with Zemmour’s relentless campaigning on immigration and Islam.

“They criticise me for not wanting to get involved in the mad idea of a religious war (in France), or a civil war which they almost seem to want for the country,” Le Pen added.

In a statement last week announcing his decision to join Zemmour, Rieu claimed that Le Pen’s party was “no longer able to motivate our voters” and “lots of senior figures and grassroots campaigners don’t believe in it any more.”

But Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper on Sunday that Le Pen remained “the most dangerous person for the country” as Macron’s biggest rival.

“If she ever wins powers that it will lead to national division, then civil war,” he warned.

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POLITICS

Prosecutors: No new rape inquiry for France’s disabilities minister

France's disabilities minister will not face a new inquiry "as things stand" over a rape allegation that surfaced just after his nomination by President Emmanuel Macron last week, prosecutors have said, citing the anonymity of the alleged victim.

Prosecutors: No new rape inquiry for France's disabilities minister

Damien Abad has faced growing pressure to resign after the news website Mediapart reported the assault claims by two women dating from over a decade ago, which he has denied.

One of the women, identified only by her first name, Margaux, filed a rape complaint in 2017 that was later dismissed by prosecutors.

The other woman, known only as Chloe, told Mediapart that in 2010 she had blacked out after accepting a glass of champagne from Abad at a bar in Paris, and woke up in her underwear in pain with him in a hotel room. She believes she may have been drugged.

She did not file an official complaint, but the Paris prosecutors’ office said it was looking into the case after being informed by the Observatory of Sexist and Sexual Violence in Politics, a group formed by members of France’s MeToo movement.

“As things stand, the Paris prosecutors’ office is not following up on the letter” from the observatory, it said, citing “the inability to identify the victim of the alleged acts and therefore the impossibility of proceeding to a hearing.”

In cases of sexual assault against adults, Paris prosecutors can open an inquiry only if an official complaint is made, meaning the victim must give their identity.

Abad has rejected the calls to resign in order to ensure the new government’s “exemplarity,” saying that he is innocent and that his own condition of arthrogryposis, which limits the movement of his joints, means sexual relations can occur only with the help of a partner.

The appointment of Abad as minister for solidarities and people with disabilities in a reshuffle last Friday was seen as a major coup for Macron, as the 42-year-old had defected from the right-wing opposition.

The new prime minister, Elisabeth Borne, said she was unaware of the allegations before Abad’s nomination, but insisted that “If there is new information, if a new complaint is filed, we will draw all the consequences.”

The claims could loom large over parliamentary elections next month, when Macron is hoping to secure a solid majority for his reformist agenda. Abad will be standing for re-election in the Ain department north of Lyon.

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