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Le Pen, Macron battle on as French student protests reject both

A youth kicks a teargas cannister during the protest in Paris
A youth kicks a teargas cannister during the protest in Paris AFP

School students clashed with police in Paris on Thursday during a demonstration against both candidates in the 7 May French presidential election. Meanwhile, far-right candidate Marine Le Pen was to hold a rally in the Riviera city of Nice, while centrist Emmanuel Macron continued campaigning in the north.

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Glasses and smoke bombs were thrown at police on Paris's Place de la République on Thursday as several hundred school students staged a "Neither Marine, nor Macron" demonstration.

Young people on Thursday's Paris protest told RFI:

  • 18-year-old Valentine:

"I don’t want to choose between liberalism and fascism. Don’t need someone who worked for the bank, with his programme he’s going to put France in the shit, but fascism isn’t the solution either. I don’t want to choose between two diseases."

  • Juliette, 16:

"I’m against Le Pen. She would be a catastrophe. Even if don’t like Macron, you have got to vote against her, you have to make sacrifices for your country."

  • Laura, 19

"It’s a big dilemma, I’m not ready to legitimise Macron’s mandate. But Le Pen remains a great danger for democracy, for all the immigrants, poor people, refugees. So I’m here to say ‘we reject these elections and this campaign’."

  • Pierre, 16:

“This morning’s picket wasn’t respected. When I arrived at 7.30 Action Française was already there. They were wearing cagoules and bike helmets, dark glasses, some we wearing knuckledusters."

  • Laura:

"Action Française is growing inside high schools in Paris, they film themselves training in the Luxembourg gardens, showing how you can beat up leftist students."

  • Charly, 16

"I’m 16 and can’t vote but if I had the chance to vote I don’t know how I would. I don’t agree with Le Pen’s policy on immigration and foreigners. I wanted to have the chance to vote in first round but I’m glad I haven’t got it for the second, I have no idea how I’d vote.”

  • Jules, 15

"People say the FN is the most popular party among young people but I think it’s important to show that youth isn’t just that, it’s mobilised against her. We have to make sure Le Pen gets the lowest score possible. But then in the legislatives we’ll campaign against Macron. We need to protect workers."

  • Vadim, 16, who is holding a sign declaring "Neither god nor master"

"It’s to say we won’t be bullied. I didn't have the chance to express my point of view in these elections, that’s bad. You can have political opinions even if you’re not 18. Macron would be a bad president in my opinion, I don’t agree with him but I’d rather have him than le Pen. She’s just anti-semitic and racist. We don't want her.
 

Police responded with teargas.

The demonstrators styled themselves both "antifascist" and "anticapitalist" and earlier in the morning they had picketed about 20 high schools in the capital.

Members of the far-right Action Française group broke up one picket at a school on the Paris Left Bank.

There were also clashes at a 1,000-strong demonstration in the Brittany regional capital, Rennes.

The school students' slogans echo the sentiments of some supporters of hard-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who failed to make it to the second round despite garnering more than seven million votes.

His campaign is conducting an online consultation to decide whether to advise his voters to vote Macron to prevent Le Pen winning, cast a blank vote or abstain.

Le Pen was up at dawn on Thursday to take a trip on a trawler belonging to a party member in south-east France ahead of a rally in Nice in the evening.

"Leaving Europe as she proposes would mean the end of French fishing. Think about it," Macron commented on Twitter.

Whirlwind at Whirlpool

At a rally in the northern French city of Arras on Wednesday evening, the former banker and economy minister, also slammed Le Pen as "an heiress, born in a château", adding "and she claims to be a woman of the people!"

The meeting followed his chaotic visit to the Whirlpool electrical goods factory in Amiens, where he was booed and greeted with cries of "Marine for president!".

The factory is theatened with closure because the US-based company plans to relocate to Poland and Le Pen has cited it as an example of the evils of globalisation and EU policy.

The National Front [FN) upstaged Macron on Wednesday with a surprise visit to the factory earlier in the day.

She was greeted with cheers and on Thursday she slammed the Macron campaign's claim that the applause came from FN members, also laying into TV channel BFMTV for suggesting that party activists had ensured a warm welcome by taking the workers croissants before she arrived.

Holocaust denial claims dismissed

FN officials on Thursday reacted angrily to reports that Jean-François Jalkh, who has taken over the party's presidency during the election campaign, endorsed the work of a well-known holocaust-denier in a 2005 interview.

Journalists have found a report in an obscure review called Le Temps des Savoirs in which Jalkh is said to have said he had "technical questions" about the "problem of the gas chambers".

Praising holocaust-denier Robert Faurisson for being "serious", he said that it was "impossible" to use the Zyklon B chemical in "mass exterminations", going against the overwhelming historical consensus.

He also said that he had taken part in far-right youth groups' physical attacks on left-wingers and praised the "training" the experience had given to members.

Describing Jalkh as an "honest man", FN vice-president Florian Philippot dismissed the reports as "rather base campaign polemics", while MP Marion Maréchal-Le Pen claimed they were an "attempt at manipulation".

EU wants five million euros of FN

There was more bad news for the party on Thursday when the European parliament raised its estimate of the amount of money its MEPs should pay back to 4,978,122 euros for the period 1 April 2012 to 1 April 2017.

The sum, which was put at 1.9 million euros last year, is for salaries paid to party members for work as parliamentary assistants they are alleged not to have carried out.

To read our coverage of France's 2017 presidential election click here

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