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Fighting breaks out at far-right French presidential candidate’s rally.

A melee broke out at the first campaign rally held by Eric Zemmour, the anti-immigration polemicist who is running for French president, after activists from an anti-racism organisation sought to interrupt his speech.

Soon after Mr Zemmour began speaking to a crowd of more than 10,000 at a conference hall outside Paris, activists from SOS Racisme stood up to reveal black shirts spelling out the slogan “No to Racism”. They were set upon by Zemmour supporters, and video taken by journalists showed men punching the activists and chairs being thrown, while security officials tried to break up the fight.

The episode ended quickly but showed how Mr Zemmour’s far-right candidacy has provoked tensions in France as the television pundit and author has risen in the polls since summer. While his supporters waved French flags in a northern suburb of the capital, roughly 8,000 others took to the streets of Paris to denounce his xenophobic platform. Police said they had made 48 arrests.

The 63-year-old, who argues that once-great France is declining because of unchecked immigration and an excess of political correctness, had risen as high as second in the polls in early November. But his popularity has waned recently to fall back to third place behind President Emmanuel Macron and far-right politician Marine Le Pen, according to pollster Harris Interactive.

Mr Zemmour sought to get back on the front foot on Sunday with a combative, hour-long speech that laid out his policies to curb immigration and boost the economy with lower taxes, while also hitting culture war issues such as banning affirmative action and so-called inclusive writing.

“If I win that election, it won’t be one more political changeover but the beginning of the reconquest of the most beautiful country in the world,” he told the cheering crowd as he stood in front of a sign emblazoned with the name of his new political party, Reconquest.

Mr Zemmour has been compared to former US president Donald Trump because of his rabble-rousing populism and ambition to jump from TV fame as a pundit to national politics. His critics decry what they call his racist and misogynist views espoused in his best-selling books, and point to his two legal convictions for hate speech.

“I’m not racist, and neither are you,” Mr Zemmour told his supporters. “We are defending our country, our homeland, our ancestral heritage . . . [and want to] transmit to our children France as we have always known it.”

“In the first weeks of my administration, immigration zero will become the clear objective.”

Mr Zemmour’s rally came a day after France’s conservative Les Républicains party picked their candidate, the veteran politician Valérie Pécresse, which means the field of candidates is now largely set. Mr Macron is expected to announce his re-election bid early next year. The first round of voting will be held on April 10th. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021

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