Marine Le Pen takes aim at France’s ‘Talibanised’ zones

French presidential election updates

Populist French far-right leader Marine Le Pen has launched a blistering attack on “arrogant” President Emmanuel Macron and promised to restore law and order to what she called the country’s “narco-housing estates” and “Talibanised” zones at the start of her 2022 election campaign.

“There will be no place in France where the law does not apply,” she told cheering elected politicians of her anti-immigration Rassemblement National party in Fréjus on the Mediterranean coast on Sunday. “We will eradicate gangs and mafias and all those, Islamists or not, who want to impose rules and ways of life that are not ours.” 

Opinion polls show Le Pen and the incumbent Macron — who began his mandate as a liberal who was “neither right nor left” in 2017 but is seen as having veered to the right in recent months — leading the field for the presidential election due in April. 

The far right and the centre right have put law and order and immigration control at the heart of their campaigns — issues highlighted by the start of the trial last week over the 2015 Islamist terror attacks in Paris and by the arrival of refugees from Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover — while Macron’s supposedly divisive and haughty personality has been attacked by opposition politicians from right to left. 

Anne Hidalgo, the Spanish-born Socialist mayor of Paris, also launched her election bid in the northern city of Rouen on Sunday, promising to build a France that was “fairer, stronger and safer”. 

Hidalgo is predicted to win less than 10 per cent of votes in the first round of the presidential vote, compared with more than 20 per cent for both Macron and Le Pen, but she is seen as the best candidate to rally support from Greens and the far left when others among the 30 or so possible candidates eventually drop out. Last week she appealed to potential supporters on the left by saying that teachers’ salaries could be at least doubled. 

“The presidential mandate now coming to an end was supposed to unite the French, but it divided them as never before,” Hidalgo told supporters on the Rouen docks by the river Seine in an attack on Macron’s record. “It was supposed to solve social problems, but made them worse. It was supposed to protect our planet, but it ignored the environment.”

Macron himself has not officially declared himself as a candidate for re-election, but his advisers say he is planning to stand again and will contrast his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and the confident management of the resulting economic crisis with the untried persona of Le Pen.

Under the French system, only two contenders make it to the second and final round unless one wins more than half the vote in the first. Macron emerged victorious from his second-round battle with Le Pen in 2017, and he is forecast to do the same next year, albeit by a smaller margin, if he again faces her. 

Le Pen has steadily “detoxified” her party’s image since taking over from her anti-Semitic father Jean-Marie a decade ago. She has moderated the RN’s policies on race and its hostility to the EU, but is still hampered by the reluctance of many French to vote for a party associated with extremism and still often known by its old name of the “National Front”.

That is why she handed over the reins of the party leadership on Sunday to Jordan Bardella, a rising star in the party and a member of the European Parliament, and why her campaign poster makes no mention of the RN but simply shows a photograph of her with the slogan “Liberties, dear liberties”. She has said she would seek to form a government of national unity if elected. 

“We know now who Emmanuel Macron is and what he stands for,” she told journalists in Fréjus at the weekend as she burnished her French nationalist credentials. “It seems to that the French want this choice between him and me. It’s really a choice between globalism and nationalism.” 

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