Chairs were thrown at left-wing activists who stood in “No to Racism” T-shirts during Eric Zemmour’s campaign speech.
French far-right presidential candidate Eric Zemmour launched his presidential campaign in front of thousands of jubilant supporters at an event in Paris marred by a fight during his speech.
Zemmour, a 63-year-old veteran writer and television commentator, announced on Tuesday that he will run in the April elections, joining the arena of rivals seeking to oust centrist President Emmanuel Macron.
He held his first event at an exhibition center in a Paris suburb where thousands cheered every sign of curbing immigration and loudly booed every reference to Macron.
“The stakes are high: if I win, it will be the beginning of reclaiming the most beautiful country in the world,” Zemmour told the crowd.
Fighting erupted and chairs were thrown at the activists when they stood with “No to racism” written on their T-shirts, and at least two of them were seen bleeding as they were led out of the hall.
The crew of the popular but critical nightly television news program Quotidien was also booed by security, as hostility to the media was a feature of speeches at the event.
He saw the rally as an opportunity for Zemmour to regain momentum after opinion polls showed support for him waning over the past month as he tried to maintain suspense about his intentions.
Zemmour, who has been sentenced twice for hate speech, claimed there were 15,000 people at the rally, although organizers previously spoke of 12,000.
Opinion polls show that voters currently believe Marine Le Pen, the veteran leader of the far-right National Rally, will become a more competent president than Zemmour.
The latest polls suggest he would be eliminated from the first round if the election were held now, with Macron likely to win before Le Pen, but analysts cautioned that the outcome remains highly uncertain.
The crowd at the rally – of all ages, but many more men than women – responded with greater enthusiasm to Zemmour’s discourse on immigration, race and Islam.
He has promised to reduce immigration to nearly zero if elected, to dramatically toughen the naturalization process, and to expel rejected asylum seekers and illegal immigrants.
Zemmour once again emphasized the danger of the French being “replaced” by immigrants, echoing a theory known as the “Great Alternative” popular among white supremacists.
France’s right-wing Republican Party chose Paris regional president Valerie Pecresse as its candidate on Saturday after a primary election dominated by talk of immigration and crime.
Heavy police presence
Police were on alert for far-left activists and anarchists who disrupted last weekend’s Zemmour flight to the southern port city of Marseille, which ended with the candidate showing a middle finger to a woman protesting.
Riot police crowded outside the square and searched people’s bags when they arrived.
In Paris, nearly 2,000 people demonstrated to protest a nomination that was denounced as racist and divisive.
“It is important to show that we will not let the outbreak progress,” Soliders union spokesman Simon Dotell told AFP.
In addition to a string of recent missteps, including the middle finger incident, Zemmour has seen many influential figures on the far right turn away from him, including his main financial backer.