French far-right presidential candidate Eric Zemmour has vowed a “reconquest” against decades of decline during his first campaign rally marred by clashes between his supporters and anti-racism protesters.
He said he was calling his party “Reconquest”, a reference to the historic period known as the 'Reconquista', when Christian forces brutally drove Muslims from the Iberian Peninsula.
"If I win this election, it won't be another rotation of power but a reconquest of the greatest country in the world," Zemmour boasted in his nearly 90-minute address.
Supporters of the 63-year-old former pop historian and TV commentator – who has in the past been convicted of inciting racial hatred – threw punches and chairs at protesters who were wearing anti-racism T-shirts. trying to stand on chairs as he delivered his first speech since declaring his candidacy.
Five protesters were reportedly injured. Blood was visible on at least two of the activists as they were dragged out from the auditorium.
"We wanted to do a non-violent protest," Aline Kremer from the SOS Racisme group that organized the stunt, was quoted as saying in an AFP report. "People jumped on them and started hitting them."
Moreover, as Zemmour moved through the crowd of supporters towards the stage to speak, a protester briefly grabbed him by the neck before security officers intervened.
Zemmour’s campaign staff was cited in Le Monde newspaper as saying that he had been injured during the incident and that a doctor had ordered a nine-day rest for him.
Prior to the political rally, French police arrested several dozen anti-Zemmour protesters and chased away others near the huge convention hall north of Paris. Hundreds of protesters also marched in Paris.
With echoes of Donald Trump's first campaign for US president, Zemmour used his speech to further pledge to slash immigration and taxes, drawing cheers from flag-waving supporters that rally organizers put at 15,000 but local media outlets estimated at nearly 10,000.
The journalist-turned-politician ended weeks of speculation about a run for the presidency last Tuesday, declaring his candidacy in an online video.
Zemmour is the main challenger to France’s long-time far-right figure Marine Le Pen for a place in a second run-off round of next April's presidential poll, most likely against incumbent Emmanuel Macron.
Known for provocative statements against Islam and immigration, he has won support away from both Le Pen's voter base but also the mainstream conservative right.
Zemmour promised to bring immigration to zero if elected and cut taxes for the working class and companies, while abolishing inheritance tax on family businesses. He also said he would pull France out of the integrated military command of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
Notre existence en tant que peuple français n’est pas négociable. Notre survie en tant que nation française n’est pas soumise au bon vouloir des traités ou des juges européens. Reprenons notre destin en main !#ZemmourVillepinte #RECONQUETE pic.twitter.com/kq84OmKf47— Eric Zemmour (@ZemmourEric) December 5, 2021
The latest polls in France suggest that the controversial figure would likely be eliminated in the first round if the election were held now, with Macron tipped to beat Le Pen in the second round, but analysts warn that the outcome remains highly uncertain.
The centre-right Les Républicains party last week announced they had chosen the moderate Valérie Pécresse as their 2022 candidate.