Thousands of anti-far right protesters marched across France on Saturday as opponents of presidential candidate Marine Le Pen seek to form a united front to prevent her from winning an election runoff against incumbent Emmanuel Macron on April 24.
Macron, a pro-European Union centrist, won the presidency in2017 after easily beating Le Pen when voters rallied behind him in the runoff to keep her far-right party out of power.
This year, the first round of voting last Sunday set up the same battle, but Macron is facing a much tougher challenge.
In central Paris, thousands of people gathered chanting anti-far right slogans and warning of democratic upheaval if Le Pen were to win. One banner read: “Against the far-right. For justice and equality, not Le Pen at the Elysee,” referring to the French president’s official residence.
“If the far-right is in power we will see a major collapse of the democratic, anti-racism and progressive camps,” Dominique Sopo, president of SOS Racism, which along with dozens of rights groups, unions and associations called for the protests, told Reuters.
“People need to realise that despite their anger towards Emmanuel Macron and his policies, there is no equivalence between a liberal, conservative candidate and a far-right candidate.”
Police had warned of possible incidents as demonstrators convened in some 30 cities, but the protests ended peacefully.
Macron, who held a rally in Marseille as he tries to convince left-wing voters to pick him on April 24, is slightly ahead in opinion polls.
“The far-right is a risk to our country,” he told supporters overlooking the Mediterranean port city, which put far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon first on April 10. “Don’t heckle them! Beat them!,” he said.
Prior to the first round of the election Le Pen success fully tapped into anger over the cost of living and a perception that Macron is disconnected from everyday hardships. That saw her finish with 23.1% of votes compared to 27.85% for Macron.
However, she has appeared more rattled this week as the focus has turned to her manifesto and opinion polls have shown Macron extend his lead. An IPSOS-Sopra-Steria poll on Saturday showed the president winning the runoff with 55.5% of votes.
He has won backing from former presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande. Hundreds of celebrities and sporting figures have also endorsed him to block Le Pen coming to power.