July 19, 2024

By Dominique Vidalon

PARIS (Reuters) -Thousands marched in Paris and cities across France on Saturday to protest against the far-right National Rally (RN) ahead of upcoming elections to the French parliament.

Following the RN’s surge in last Sunday’s European elections, police said 350,000 people were expected to march and 21,000 officers had been mobilised after labour unions, student groups and rights groups called for rallies to oppose the anti-immigration, eurosceptic party.

At least 150 marches were expected in cities including Marseille, Toulouse, Lyon and Lille.

In Paris, where police said 75,000 people turned out, a march set off at 1200 GMT from Place de La Republique, in the east, going through the Bastille square to Nation.

According to the CGT union, cited by BFM TV, 250,000 marched in Paris and 640,000 in total across the country. Police said they had arrested seven people in Paris. The police said there had been 217,000 demonstrators across France.

Speaking at Place de La Republique, hard-left CGT union leader Sophie Binet told reporters: “We are marching because we are extremely worried that (the RN’s head) Jordan Bardella could become the next Prime Minister … We want to prevent this disaster.”

Carol-Ann Juste, a 22 year-old student taking part in the Paris march, said it was the first time she had taken part in a protest. She said she was “worried because people believe the lies of this party that has a truly racist heritage,” a reference to the National Front, a forerunner to the RN, whose leader Jean-Marie Le Pen was fined for remarks seen as anti-Semitic or xenophobic.

Juste said she wanted to “fight to preserve a country of human rights, freedom, and tolerance”.

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On the same march, Cecilia Lormeau, a 34-year old teacher who said she plans to vote for the Popular Front, an alliance of left-wing parties, said: “It is important to show we are mobilised and that the RN is not the majority of the people.”

President Emmanuel Macron called a snap legislative election, to be held in two rounds on June 30 and July 7, after his centrist alliance was trounced by the RN in last Sunday’s European Parliament ballot.

A first series of opinion polls have projected that the RN could win the election and be in a position to form the next government.

An OpinionWay-Vae Solis poll conducted for Les Echos and Radio Classique published on Saturday forecast RN would lead in the first round of the parliamentary election with 33% of the votes, ahead of the Popular Front on 25%.

Macron’s centrist camp was on 20%.

At least two polls have put the left not far behind the RN and ahead of Macron’s group.

In Tours, western France, where hundreds of protesters were taking part in a march, a banner read: “For liberties, for rights, for a social and democratic republic, against far-right ideas and against racism”.

Several banners read: “young people hate the FN (the RN’s former name), while a pensioner carried a banner that read: “Old people also hate the RN”.

(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Additional reporting by Ingrid Melander, Layli Foroudi, Ardee Napolitano, Lucien Libert ; Editing by David Holmes)