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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

Newly appointed French Minister faces rape allegations

The final composition of the new French government was announced on Friday. A new investigation suggests that historic rape allegations against a newly appointed minister were ignored.

Newly appointed French Minister faces rape allegations

It didn’t take long for scandal to hit the France’s new government.

An investigation by Mediapart published the day after the final list of ministerial positions was announced revealed that two women have accused one of the appointees of rape. 

READ MORE Who’s who in France’s new government?

Damien Abad, the new Solidarity Minister denies the allegations and a police investigation into one allegation was dropped in 2017. But another could be about to open. 

Who is Damien Abad? 

Damien Abad is a 42-year-old son of a miner from Nimes in southern France who became the first handicapped MP to be elected in 2012. He has arthrogryposis, a rare condition that affects the joints.

Prior to his appointment as the Minister for Solidarity, Autonomy and Disabled People, he was the leader of the France’s right-wing Republicans party in the Assemblée nationale

What are the allegations? 

Two alleged victims, who didn’t know each other, told Mediapart that Abad raped them on separate occasions in 2010 and 2011.

The first woman described meeting Abad for dinner after having met him weeks earlier at a wedding. She said she blacked out after one glass of champagne and woke up in her underwear in a hotel bed with Abad the next morning fearing she had been drugged. 

A second woman who lodged a formal charge against Abad in 2017 said that he harassed her by text message for years. She eventually agreed to meet with him one evening. After initially consenting, she told him to stop – but her plea fell on deaf ears as Abad raped her. 

What does Abad have to say? 

The new minister denies the accusations.

“It is physically impossible for me to commit the acts described,” he told Mediapart – in reference to his disability. 

He admitted to sending “sometimes intimate” messages, but said he had “obviously never drugged anyone”. 

“I was able to have adventures, I stand by my claim that they were always consensual.”

Is he under investigation? 

The second alleged victim made a formal allegation against Abad in 2017. 

A subsequent investigation was dropped later that year after a “lack of sufficient evidence was gathered”.

Mediapart report that Abad’s entourage were not questioned by police and that the MP told investigators that he had no memory of the alleged crime. 

The first alleged victim flagged the abuse to the Observatory of Sexist and Sexual Violence in Politics – an unofficial watchdog monitoring elected bodies – earlier this month. 

The Observatory has since brought the case to the state prosecutor, but it is unclear if another investigation will be launched.  

Who knew? 

The tone deaf appointment of Gérald Darmanin as Interior Minister in 2020 was controversial because at the time he was under investigation for rape. His nomination was met with street protests in Paris and elsewhere. Feminists accused (and continue to accuse) Emmanuel Macron of not taking sexual violence seriously. 

The investigation into Darmanin’s alleged crime has since been dropped.

Some will question whether the naming of Abad shows that lessons have not been learned. 

“Once again a minister  in the government of Emmanuel Macron accused of rape,” said Caroline De Haas, the founder of the #NousToutes feminist movement. 

The Observatory sent a message warning senior party figures in the Republicans and LREM about the allegations on Monday – prior to Abad’s nomination. 

France’s new Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne denied having any knowledge of the warning. 

“I am going to be very clear on all these questions of harassment and sexual violence, there will be no impunity,” she said during a visit to Calvados. 

“If there are new elements, if the courts are summoned, we will accept the consequences.” 

READ MORE Who is Élisabeth Borne, France’s new PM?

The Observatory meanwhile claims it has been ignored. 

“Despite our alerts, Damien Abad who is accused of rape has been named in government. Thoughts and support to the victims,” it tweeted

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