The fi­nal push by far-right’s Le Pen

CityPress - - News - CARIEN DU PLESSIS in Paris news@city­press.co.za

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.

PHOTO: REUTERS

ALT-RIGHT Marine Le Pen is the leader of the French Na­tional Front

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