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French far-right hope Zemmour attacks welfare handouts

French far-right presidential candidate Eric Zemmour on Saturday used a meeting in the northern city of Lille to launch a tirade against welfare handouts.

French far-right party Reconquete! presidential candidate Eric Zemmour
French far-right party Reconquete! presidential candidate Eric Zemmour attends a campaign rally in Lille, northern France, on February 5th, 2022, ahead of the April 2022 presidential election in France. JULIEN DE ROSA / AFP

Zemmour, looking to outmanouevre fellow far-right rival Marine Le Pen, holding a first campaign rally at Reims, north east of Paris, said he was on the side of “the France that works”.

As Zemmour addressed 6,000 supporters, around 3,000 turned out to back their choice in Reims, where the general view was that Le Pen represents a less “extremist” view of the world.

Choosing Reims, a city where numerous French kings were crowned down the centuries, Le Pen beamed as one backer, 58-year-old businesswoman Annick, said she would get her vote.

“I am doing well economically but with Marine Le Pen there are values — attachment to our French identity, an image of firmness,” said Annick.

She dubbed Zemmour “an extremist in his attitude and words” who “has no sincerity”.

Both far-right candidates are looking to sweep up support in their bid to reach a presidential run-off vote in the industrial north of the country which is a traditional hotbed of support.

France goes to the polls in presidential elections in April.

The north is also a region, Zemmour suggested, where “handouts are an insult”.

Promising to tackle low salaries, he scoffed: “When you get up every morning to go and work … you don’t accept that your neighbour lives better than you do thanks to welfare without having to work.”

Lille’s Socialist mayor Martine Aubry had earlier said Zemmour was not welcome in the town and joined a demonstration against “hate” organised by anti-racism group SOS Racisme.

During Zemmour’s rally one journalist with private broadcaster LCI told AFP one of his supporters had spat in her face.

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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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