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Opponents of the French far-right protest at the start of last week’s election campaign. From Reuters

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©Reuters. FILE PHOTO – Marine Le Pen, candidate of France’s far-right National Rally (Rassemblement National) party for the 2022 French presidential election, speaks during a news conference on democracy and the exercise of power in Vernon, France April 12, 2022. REUTE

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By John Irish and Clotaire Achi

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

Police have warned of possible incidents as protesters converge in around 30 cities.

Macron, a pro-European centrist, won the 2017 presidency after easily defeating Le Pen as voters rallied behind him in the runoff to keep her far-right party out of power.

This year, last Sunday’s first ballot sparked the same struggle, but Macron faces a much tougher challenge.

Thousands of people gathered in central Paris, chanting slogans against the far-right and warning of democratic upheavals if Le Pen were to win. A banner read: “Against the extreme right. For justice and equality, not Le Pen in the Elysée,” referring to the official residence of the French President.

“If the extreme right is in power, we will see a major collapse of the democratic, anti-racist and progressive camps,” said Dominique Sopo, president of SOS Racism, who called for the protests along with dozens of rights groups, unions and associations, said 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 is due to hold a rally in Marseille later in the day to persuade left-wing voters to elect him on April 24, is slightly ahead in opinion polls.

But before the first round on April 10, Le Pen successfully capitalized on anger over the cost of living and the perception that Macron is disconnected from everyday hardships. She ended up with 23.1% of the vote compared to 27.85% for Macron.

However, she appeared more uncertain this week as focus has turned to her manifesto and opinion polls have shown Macron is widening his lead. An IPSOS Sopra Steria poll on Friday showed the president won the runoff with 56% of the vote.

He has won the support of former Presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande. Hundreds of celebrities and athletes have also backed him to prevent Le Pen from taking power.

DEEP UNDEMOCRATIC PROTESTS

Le Pen, whose stance is anti-immigrant and Eurosceptic, has sought to soften her image and that of her national rally party in recent years. Opponents, including Macron, have said their program is full of lies and false promises – an accusation Le Pen has denied.

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

“The establishment is concerned,” she said. “For people to protest against election results is deeply undemocratic. I say to all these people just go vote. As simple as that.”

With the electorate fragmented and indecisive, the election is likely to be won by the candidate who can reach beyond his or her camp to persuade voters that the other option would be far worse.

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

But Macron, who has angered many voters with his at times aggressive style and right-wing politics, can no longer count on that backing automatically.

A banner in Paris made it clear that voting for Macron is not an easy decision for some voters: “Neither Le Pen, nor Macron.”

Climate change activists from Extinction Rebellion had earlier forced the closure of a main square and avenue in the capital to protest the environmental programs of both candidates.

“This election leaves us with no choice between a far-right candidate with sickening ideas … and a candidate who for five years pushed the issue of ecology aside and lied,” said Lou, 26, a history teacher who joined the Extinction Rebellion movement for 2 years. said Reuters.

https://www.investing.com/news/world-news/opponents-of-french-farright-plan-protests-as-election-campaign-enters-final-week-2804808 Opponents of the French far-right protest at the start of last week’s election campaign. From Reuters

Chris Barrese

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