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POLITICS

Zemmour rally near Paris marred as anti-racism activists attacked during protest

French far-right presidential candidate Eric Zemmour launched his presidential campaign in front of thousands of cheering supporters waving the tricolore on Sunday at an event that saw anti-racism activists punched and assaulted during a protest.

Eric Zemmour presents the name of his new party
French far-right media pundit and 2022 presidential candidate Eric Zemmour presents the name of his new party "Reconquete !" during his campaign rally in Villepinte, near Paris, on December 5, 2021. JULIEN DE ROSA / AFP

Zemmour, a 63-year-old author and television commentator, announced Tuesday that he would run in next April’s election, joining the field of challengers seeking to unseat centrist President Emmanuel Macron.

He held his first event at an exhibition centre in a suburb of Paris where thousands cheered every mention of reducing immigration and booed every reference to Macron loudly.

One protester who threw a punch at Zemmour as he entered the hall to give his speech was quickly ejected and arrested by police.

“The stakes are huge: if I win it will be the start of winning back the most beautiful country in the world,” Zemmour told the crowd.

Fighting broke out and chairs were thrown at activists from the group SOS Racisme when they stood up with “No to Racism” written on their t-shirts, with at least two of them seen bleeding as they were ejected from the auditorium.

“We wanted to do a non-violent protest,” Aline Kremer from the group SOS Racisme, which organised the stunt, told AFP. “People jumped on them and started hitting them.”

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.

Socialist party head Olivier Faure blamed Zemmour for what he said had been an assault on peaceful campaigners. “Does anyone have any doubt now what motivates the Villepinte activists?” he tweeted.

The rally was seen as a chance for Zemmour to regain momentum after opinion polls showed support for him falling over the last month as he attempted to maintain suspense about his intentions.

“We’re hoping that by announcing his candidacy and with this meeting that it will relaunch him a bit,” said Maxence Mike, a 22-year-old student member of the “Generation Z” support group.

Zemmour, who has two convictions for hate speech, claimed there were 15,000 people at the rally, although organisers had previously talked of 12,000.

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.

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.

Replacement?

The crowd at the rally — of all ages, but with far more men than women — responded most enthusiastically to Zemmour’s rhetoric on immigration, race and Islam.

He vowed to reduce immigration to almost zero if he were elected, dramatically toughen up the naturalisation process, and expel failed asylum-seekers and illegal immigrants.

Zemmour again stressed the danger of French people being “replaced” by immigrants, echoing a theory known as the “great replacement” that is popular with white supremicists.

The idea was on many supporter’s minds.    

“You just need to go out in the street to see it,” Helena, a 60-year-old civil servant from the Paris suburbs, told AFP at the rally. “When I take transport I barely hear anyone speaking French.”

Fabrice Berly, a 54-year-old photocopier technician also from the Paris suburbs, said he no longer recognised his neighbourhood as the same place he grew up in.

“I can see the replacement going on around me,” he said.

Jacques Ohana, a 65-year-old Paris surgeon, said he liked the way Zemmour spoke and thought that he had already succeeded in making immigration one of the main topics of the election campaign.

“What’s important for me is that the others are focusing on his topics,” he said. “Whether he’s elected or not, he’s already won the campaign.”

France’s right-wing Republicans party picked the boss of the Paris region Valerie Pecresse as its nominee on Saturday after a primary dominated by talk of immigration and crime.

Protest

Police were 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.

Riot police massed outside the arena and searched people’s bags as they arrived.

In Paris, around 2,000 people marched to protest a candidacy denounced as racist and divisive.

“It’s important to show that we won’t let fascism gain ground,” Simon Duteil, a spokesperson for the Solidaires union, told AFP.

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.

Member comments

  1. The French population is declining and ageing. The birth rate is too low. Consequently the ratio between workers and the retired is going to make present pension levels unsustainable. France has to either increase baby production or immigration . The benefit of immigration is that the worker arrives already fully grown and educated – so, cost efficient but may have a foreign name.

  2. “We wanted to do a non-violent protest,” Aline Kremer from the group SOS Racisme, which organised the stunt, told AFP.

    STUNT ? Really ? Whoever wrote this needs a course in basic language. Unless for this site peaceful anti-racist protests are stunts. If that’s the case, you need to tell us so we can go elsewhere.

    1. I think when you infiltrate somebody else’s rally in false colours, it’s reasonable to call the ensuing brawl a stunt isn’t it ?

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OPINION & ANALYSIS

‘Police should have stopped Koran-burning demos after the first day’

Swedish police underestimated the level of violence that awaited them and should have called a halt to Danish-Swedish extremist Rasmus Paludan’s demos as soon as it became clear the riots were spiralling out of control, argues journalist Bilan Osman. 

‘Police should have stopped Koran-burning demos after the first day’

Speaking to The Local for the Sweden in Focus podcast, out this Saturday, Osman said she understood why the police had allowed the demonstrations to go ahead in the first place but that the safety of civilians and police officers should have taken precedence when the counter-demonstrations turned violent. 

“Just to be clear, I don’t think it’s an easy question. I think everyone, regardless of views or beliefs, should have the right to demonstrate,” said Osman, who writes for the left-wing Dagens ETC newspaper and previously lectured for the anti-racist Expo Foundation.

“I understand people who say that violence [from counter-demonstrators] shouldn’t be a reason to stop people from demonstrating. I truly believe that. But at the same time: was it worth it this time when it’s about people’s lives and safety?” 

Police revealed on Friday that at least 104 officers were injured in counter-demonstrations that they say were hijacked by criminal gangs intent on targeting the police. 

Forty people were arrested and police are continuing to investigate the violent riots for which they admitted they were unprepared. 

“I think the police honestly misjudged the situation. I understand why Paludan was allowed to demonstrate the first day. It’s not the first time he has burned the Koran in Sweden. When he burned the Koran in Rinkeby last year nothing happened. But this time it was chaos.” 

Osman noted that Rasmus Paludan did not even show up for a planned demonstration in her home city of Linköping – but the police were targeted anyway. 

“I know people who were terrified of going home. I know people who had rocks thrown in their direction, not to mention the people who worked that day, policemen and women who feared for their lives. So for the safety of civilians and the police the manifestations should have been stopped at that point. Instead it went on, not only for a second day but also a third day and a fourth day.” 

On the question of whether it was acceptable to burn Islam’s holy book, Osman said it depended on the context. 

“If you burn the Koran mainly to criticise religion, or even Islam, of course it should be accepted in a democracy. The state should not only allow these things, but also protect people that do so. 

“I do believe that. Even as a Muslim. That’s an important part of the freedom of speech. 

A previous recipient of an award from the Swedish Committee Against Antisemitism for her efforts to combat prejudice in society, Osman drew parallels with virulent anti-Semitism and said it was “terrifying” that Paludan was being treated by many as a free speech campaigner rather than a far-right extremist.  

“If you are a right-wing extremist that wants to ethnically cleanse, that wants to cleanse Muslims from Sweden, and therefore burn the Koran, it’s actually dumb to think that this is a question about freedom of speech. When Nazis burn everything Jewish it’s not a critique against Judaism, it’s anti-Semitism.” 

Anti-Muslim sentiment in Sweden tended to come in waves, Osman said, pointing to 9/11 and Anders Behring Brevik’s attacks in Norway as previous occasions when Islamophobia was rampant. Now the Easter riots had unleashed a new wave of hatred against Muslims that she described as “alarming” and the worst yet. 

“I do believe that we will find a way to coexist in our democracy. But we have to put in a lot work. And Muslims can’t do that work alone. We need allies in this.” 

Listen to more from Bilan Osman on the April 23rd episode of Sweden in Focus: Why Sweden experienced its worst riots in decades.

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