By SYLVIE CORBET, The Associated Press

VILLEPINTE, France (AP) – Anti-racist activists were beaten up on Sunday as former far-right French television expert Eric Zemmour held his first presidential campaign rally near Paris, days after officially declaring his candidacy in a video highlighting his anti-migrant and anti-Islam views.

Zemmour drew comparisons in France with former US President Donald Trump because of his populism and ambitions to move from the small screen to national leadership in the French presidential election in April. The 63-year-old man with multiple convictions for hate speech unveiled his campaign slogan: “Impossible is not French”, a quote attributed to Napoleon.

“What’s at stake is huge,” Zemmour said. “If I win this election, it will not be another (political) shift, but the start of the reconquest of the most beautiful country in the world.”

Supporters of the rally sang the national anthem of France, shouting “Zemmour, president!” and “We are going to win!” while waving the French tricolor. PA journalists saw activists dressed in black with “No to Racism” on their sweaters being beaten by people at the rally and brutally left the room. Clashes continued outside the room between anti-racist activists and security guards.

Political cartoons about world leaders

Political cartoons

Journalists on a French television show covering politics were booed and insulted by supporters of Zemmour before his speech, leading them to be briefly escorted out of the room by security guards. They returned soon after, but Zemmour harshly criticized the media in his speech.

“They argue about the books I wrote 15 years ago, they snoop around my private life, call me all kinds of names … My opponents want my political death, the journalists want my social death and the jihadists want my death, “he said. noted.

The rally, which was originally supposed to be held in a Parisian concert hall, was moved to a larger exhibition center in a northern suburb of the capital for security reasons as a demonstration against Zemmour took place on Sunday in Paris, organized by more than 50 organizations including far-left political parties, unions and anti-racist groups. Police feared clashes with Zemmour’s far-right supporters.

In the popular Parisian district of Barbes, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets on Sunday, marching behind a banner saying “Paris will silence the far right”.

Pauline Salingue, spokesperson for the leader of the New Anti-Capitalist Party, said people “should not be seduced by these so-called anti-system profiles. Zemmour is a multimillionaire, Zemmour earns tens of thousands of euros per month, so how can he claim to represent the common people, as he likes to say? This is a very serious scam. “

Zemmour has gained strength on the French political scene in recent months, starting to siphon supporters of far-right National Party leader Marine Le Pen, who has long said she will run for the French presidency next year .

Its first rally came a day after France’s main conservative Republican party picked its presidential candidate. Valérie Pécresse, at the head of the Paris region and former minister from 2007 to 2012, as his presidential candidate.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who beat Le Pen in the 2017 presidential runoff, is expected to run for a second term, but he has yet to declare his candidacy.

The far-left leader of the Rebel France party, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who is running for the presidency for the third time, also organized a rally on Sunday bringing together several thousand supporters in Paris.

Other left-wing presidential candidates include the mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo for the Socialist Party and Yannick Jadot, a former Greenpeace activist, for the Greens.

People attending rallies for Zemmour and Mélenchon were not required to show their French COVID-19 health cards, in line with a Constitutional Council ruling that said the cards should not be used to restrict access to meetings policies.

Wearing a mask is mandatory in public gatherings, but many Zemmour supporters at the rally in Villepinte defied the government restriction.

Coronavirus infections have jumped in France in recent weeks, with nearly 40,000 new cases every day on average, and hospitalizations and deaths linked to the virus are on the rise again.

Journalists from Associated Press Boubkar Benzabat and Patrick Hermansen in Paris, Florian Brunet and Philippe Marion in Villepinte contributed to the story.

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