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French hard-left leader Mélenchon in court for obstructing police

France's leftist party La France Insoumise (LFI) president Jean-Luc Melenchon (C) looks on as he arrives at the courthouse in Bobigny on September 19, 2019
France's leftist party La France Insoumise (LFI) president Jean-Luc Melenchon (C) looks on as he arrives at the courthouse in Bobigny on September 19, 2019 CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT / AFP

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the France Unbowed founder, went on trial Thursday with five other party leaders over clashes with police and magistrates during raids on his home and party offices last October. He faces charges of rebellion, provocation and intimidation.

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Mélenchon arrived at the court in Bobigny, just outside Paris, on Thursday morning wearing his tricolor MP's sash.

Arriving 45 minutes ahead of time, he greeted supporters shouting “Resistance!” outside the courthouse without making a statement. Instead, his co-defendant and MP Alexis Corbière spoke on his behalf, once again casting the trial as political, whose aim was to destroy him.

"All of this is abnormal and has been disproportionate right from the beginning, including this summons," Corbière said.

Mélenchon, head of La France Insoumise (France Unbowed), is being tried for intimidating officials who were investigating him over possible funding irregularities.

Fake jobs claims

In footage shot by reporters during police raids on his home and party headquarters last October, Mélenchon is seen shoving a prosecutor and an officer in a fit of rage.

The 68-year-old, famous for his emotional style, claimed the raids were part of a conspiracy directed by President Emmanuel Macron and embraced by the judiciary and media to undermine his political movement.

The raids were part of a long-running investigation into the alleged misuse of European Parliament funds to pay staff for work carried out in France. Police also probed allegations of irregularities into Mélenchon's 2017 presidential campaign accounts.

The France Unbowed founder is on trial with five other people, including two members of parliament from his party.

Prosecutors briefly disrupted the trial, on the motive that Mélenchon's party had failed to send them all the required documents in time.

Parallel with Lula

"It is impossible for us to judge this case in a serene manner," the Paris prosecutor said. However, the case quickly resumed.

If found guilty, Mélenchon could face up to ten years in prison and a fine of 150,000 euros.

Ahead of his trial, the left-wing leader visited Brazil's jailed former president Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, and concluded that they were both victims of politically motivated trials.

Mélenchon, who was eliminated in the first round of the presidential election in 2017 coming fourth, frequently denounces President Emmanuel Macron for backing laws favouring the wealthy and right-wing voters.

Ruling party members and several newspapers accuse him of placing himself above the law and using similar arguments as far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who has also cast the multiple investigations into her party's finances as a political plot.

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