Controversial far-right French presidential candidate Eric Zemmour was physically assaulted Sunday by a protester north of Paris during a rally to announce the formation of his new anti-immigrant political party ‘Reconquest.’
As Zemmour moved through the crowd towards the stage to give his speech, a man lunged and grabbed him briefly by the neck before being tackled by security and later taken into custody by police.
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Although the fiery populist went on to deliver his speech, his team said afterwards that he had been injured in the incident and a doctor had ordered a nine-day rest, Le Monde newspaper reported.
"If I win this election, it won't be another rotation of power but a reconquest of the greatest country in the world," Zemmour said in a nearly hour-and-a-half-long speech.
He said he was calling his party "Reconquest", a name that evokes the historic period known as the Reconquista, when Christian forces drove Muslim rulers from the Iberian Peninsula.
With echoes of Donald Trump's first campaign for U.S. president, Zemmour promised to slash immigration and taxes to cheers from flag-waving supporters that organizers put at 15,000. A Reuters count put their number at around 10,000.
In a separate incident at the rally, Zemmour’s supporters threw punches and chairs at several protesters wearing anti-racism T-shirts trying to stand on chairs as he gave his first speech since declaring his candidacy. Five-protestors were injured, their association said afterwards.
Before the rally started, police arrested several dozen anti-Zemmour protesters and chased away others near the giant convention hall north of Paris. Hundreds of protesters also marched in Paris.
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The former journalist and commentator’s endorsement of a controversial reading of World War II history – in which French Nazi collaborators allegedly sacrificed some Jews to save others – and his provocative statements against Islam and immigration, have both engendered harsh criticism among Jewish and liberal leaders.
In a recent interview, French Chief Rabbi Haim Korsia called Zemmour, who is himself the son of Jewish immigrants from Algeria, an antisemite.
Tribune Juive, a mainstream French-Jewish paper with many conservative readers, on October 28 published an editorial that harshly criticized Korsia for labeling Zemmour an antisemite and rejected the charge as unfounded. That same op-ed, however, called some of Zemmour’s statements “disconcerting,” “abject,” “obsessive” and “pathologically nationalistic.”
Zemmour is the main challenger to long-time far-right figure Marine Le Pen for a place in a second run-off round of next April's election, most likely against President Emmanuel Macron, and has won support away from both Le Pen's voter base but also the mainstream conservative right.
He said he aimed 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.