With just six days until a French presidential runoff that could define Europe’s future, far-right leader Marine Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron held high-stakes rallies Monday that overlapped with May Day marches and underscored the fact that jobs are voters’ No. 1 concern.
France votes for a new president on Sunday, a ballot being watched closely by financial markets and France’s neighbors as a test of the global populist wave. While Le Pen got an endorsement from her father on Monday, Macron held an emotional meeting with a Moroccan man whose father died years ago when he was thrown off a Paris bridge by far-right skinheads.
A May Day march attended by thousands of people in Paris was disrupted as scores of hooded youths threw gasoline bombs at riot police in full gear, who responded with tear gas and truncheons. One police officer was seen spraying a troublemaker in the face.
While supporters from fringe movements often disrupt protest marches in the French capital, they usually don’t carry signs. Some of the violent protesters at the May Day event had signs referring to the presidential election and expressing dissatisfaction with both candidates in Sunday’s runoff election.
“Not one or the other; instead it’s the people’s self-defense” read one sign. “Macron=Louis XVI, Le Pen=Le Pen,” read another.
Workers in the union-organized march want to block Le Pen from getting into power, but offered differing methods on Monday. Some urged French workers to vote for Macron. Others refused to support the centrist, including far-left presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, who was eliminated in the first-round vote on April 23.
Wanted or not, Le Pen was praised by her 88-year-old father Jean-Marie, the co-founder of her National Front party. She expelled him from the party in 2015 after he reiterated anti-Semitic comments.
In a speech before a gilded Paris statue of his heroine, Joan of Arc, Jean-Marie Le Pen urged French voters to back his daughter in Sunday’s runoff.
“She is not Joan of Arc, but she accepts the same mission … France,” Jean-Marie Le Pen said.
He denounced Macron as a “masked Socialist” backed by the highly unpopular Socialist President Francois Hollande. Macron once served as Hollande’s economy minister.
“He wants to dynamize the economy, but he is among those who dynamited it,” the elder Le Pen said, referring to France’s stagnant economy and jobless rate of around 10 percent.
Marine Le Pen, speaking in a hall north of Paris, also skewered Macron, a former investment banker, calling him a “puppet” of the world of finance and Islamic fundamentalists. Cheers of “Marine President!” and anti-immigrant chants rose up in the crowd of thousands for Le Pen’s rally.
Le Pen, who hopes to mimic Donald Trump’s election victory, compared Macron to Hillary Clinton. She also sought repeatedly to puncture Macron’s argument that he represents change, calling him Hollande’s lapdog, the candidate of “the caviar left.”
She also claimed that his pro-business policies would not create jobs but send them abroad and leave French workers hungry.
Macron, seeking to remind voters of the National Front’s dark past, paid homage Monday to a Moroccan man thrown to his death in the Seine River amid a far-right march over two decades ago. Macron joined the man’s son and anti-National Front protesters at an annual commemoration near the Louvre Museum in Paris.
The National Front traditionally holds a May Day march in Paris to honor Joan of Arc. But at the 1995 event, some skinheads broke away and pushed 29-year-old Brahim Bourram off a bridge into the Seine River, where he drowned. The death drew national outrage.
Standing Monday on the same bridge, Macron hugged Bourram’s son Said, who was 9 years old when his father was killed.
Said, a chauffeur who supports Macron, said his father was targeted “because he was a foreigner, an Arab. That is why I am fighting, to say ‘No’ to racism.”
Macron said, despite Marine Le Pen’s efforts to distance herself from her father’s anti-Semitism, “the roots are there, and they are very much alive.”
“I will not forget anything and I will fight to the last second, not only against her project but against the idea she has of democracy and the nation,” Macron declared.
Polls consider Macron the front-runner in the runoff, but the race has been exceptionally unpredictable.
Over the weekend, Le Pen was endorsed by Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, a conservative candidate who lost in the first round of voting. Dupont-Aignan shocked many French by agreeing to be Le Pen’s prime minister, if she wins the presidency.