The final push by far-right’s Le Pen
Scores of police vans and officers in riot gear and no-nonsense haircuts pointed the way to the Zenith Concert Hall, where far-right French presidential contender Marine Le Pen held a rousing rally on Monday night, ahead of today’s first round of voting in France’s elections.
About 400 people protested in the north of Paris a few hours ahead of the gathering, and it was the stone-throwing, bottle-hurling back-end of this crowd that police – a visible feature in the French capital since the Paris attacks 18 months ago – were holding at bay. Smoke grenades clouded the air as angry protesters, with cloths and bits of clothing tied around their noses and mouths, tried to cross the bridge to the venue.
From there, the path to the only entrance to the hall led past an exhibition titled African Capitals – sweetly ironic because a “truly French” Le Pen promised right next to this that her first step as president would be to bring back the borders. She stopped just short of saying she would build a wall between the country and the rest of the continent, as well as other “invaders”.
Le Pen, “France’s Donald Trump”, spoke out against globalisation, the EU, the criminals of today who steal cars and how nobody feels safe any more. Basically, she wants to make France “great again”, though she didn’t use those exact words.
The 48-year-old, who has a deep and powerful voice that would make Helen Zille envious, wants to rip veils off Muslim women here because, “in France, we respect women; we do not ask them to hide under veils because they are impure”.
The crowd spontaneously sang the national anthem La Marseillaise – a call to war against invaders – at least three times during her speech.
The audience of young and old were on their feet almost every five sentences to shout trademark slogans such as “Marine, president!” or “On est chez nous! [This is our home!]”
There were few black faces in the crowd and, if any Muslims were there, they weren’t obvious.
Le Pen rolled out numerous fine-sounding slogans, but imparted little detail on figures and plans. There were tirades against her opponents, Emmanuel Macron and François Fillon, which drew welltimed boos from the crowd.
Those with double nationality had to go back to “their” countries, she said, and she would be willing to test the country on a “Frexit” option, where France would follow the British example by leaving the EU.
“This election is a kind of referendum for or against globalisation; for or against France,” said Le Pen, to cheers.
The presidential wannabe elicits strong emotions, and her face is the most vandalised on election posters as Hitlerlike moustaches are added to them.
Radical feminists from the Femen group tried to disrupt her speech by storming on to the stage to throw a bunch of flowers at her, but they were swiftly ejected. Le Pen hardly batted an eyelid.
Polls show Le Pen and Macron with leads of 22% to 23%, while Fillon is holding on with 21%. Hard-left candidate JeanLuc Mélenchon only recently entered the race, polling at 19%. These four are considered the only serious candidates among the 11 contesting this round.
The final round of voting is scheduled for May 7.
ALT-RIGHT Marine Le Pen is the leader of the French National Front