France’s far-right opponents protest as election campaign enters final week

PARIS (Reuters) – Thousands of anti-far-right protesters marched across France on Saturday as opponents of presidential candidate Marine Le Pen sought to form a united front to prevent her from winning a run-off election against incumbent Emmanuel Macron on April 24.

Police warned of the possibility of accidents as protesters gathered in about 30 cities.

Macron, a pro-EU centrist, won the presidency in 2017 easily defeating Le Pen when voters rallied behind him in the run-off to drive her far-right party out of power.

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This year, last Sunday’s first round of voting played out the same battle, but Macron faces an even tougher challenge.

In central Paris, thousands of people gathered chanting slogans against the far-right and warning of democratic unrest if Le Pen wins. One banner read: “Against the far right. For justice and equality, not Le Pen in the Elysee Palace,” a reference to the official residence of the French president.

Dominic Sobo, head of SOS Racism, which along with dozens of rights groups, unions and associations have called for protests: “If the far right is in power, we will witness a massive collapse of the democratic and progressive anti-racism camps.” to Reuters.

People need to realize that despite their anger at Emmanuel Macron and his policies, there is no equivalence between a liberal conservative candidate and a far-right candidate.

Macron, who will hold a rally in Marseille later in the day to try to persuade left-wing voters to pick him on April 24, is leading slightly in the opinion polls.

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But ahead of the first round on April 10, Le Pen managed to exploit anger over the cost of living and the perception that Macron is detached from daily hardships. This resulted in her receiving 23.1% of the vote, compared to 27.85% for Macron.

However, she appeared more alarmed this week as the focus shifted to her statement and polls showed Macron extending his lead. A poll by IPSOS-Sopra-Steria on Friday showed the president winning the run-off with 56% of the vote.

He had the support of former presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and Fran├žois Hollande. Hundreds of celebrities and sports personalities also endorsed him to prevent Le Pen from coming to power.

Deep undemocratic protests

Le Pen, whose stance is considered anti-immigration and Eurosceptic, has sought in recent years to soften her image and that of her National Rally party. Opponents, including Macron, have said her platform is riddled with lies and false promises – an accusation Le Pen has rejected.

Speaking to reporters during a campaign stop in southern France, Le Pen dismissed the planned protests as undemocratic.

“The establishment is concerned,” she said. “People protesting the election results is totally undemocratic. I tell all these people just go vote. It’s that simple.”

With voters dispersed and indecisive, the candidate who can bypass his camp to convince voters that the other option would be much worse is likely to win the election.

For decades, the “Republican Front” of voters of all stripes rallying behind the mainstream candidate has helped keep the far right out of power.

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But Macron, whose harsh style and policies that veered to the right at times have upset many voters, can no longer automatically count on that support.

Highlighting how Macron was chosen, for some voters, is not an easy decision, one of the banners in Paris wrote: “Neither Le Pen nor Macron.”

Climate change activists from Extinction Rebellion had earlier forced the closure of a major square and street in the capital, in protest of both candidates’ environmental programs.

“This election leaves us no choice between a far-right candidate with hateful ideas…and a candidate who put the environmental issue aside for five years and lied,” Lu, 26, a history teacher, who has joined Extinction Rebellion II. Years ago, Reuters.

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Additional reporting by Marco Trujillo; Editing by Francis Kerry, Russell and Clelia Ozil

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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