France’s would-be presidents rally in Paris days before vote

French presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon stood aboard a barge Monday as he prepared to campaign along the canals of Paris.
French presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon stood aboard a barge Monday as he prepared to campaign along the canals of Paris.

PARIS — As France’s unpredictable presidential campaign nears its finish with no clear front-runner, centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen rallied big crowds in Paris with their rival visions for Europe’s future.

Meanwhile, far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, enjoying a late poll surge, campaigned on a barge Monday floating through the canals of Paris.

And conservative candidate Francois Fillon took his tough-on-security campaign to the southern French city of Nice, which was scarred by a deadly truck attack last year that killed 86 people.


A few dozen people protesting against Le Pen clashed with police preventing them from heading to an entertainment complex in eastern Paris where she was holding her rally. Hundreds of riot police in full gear were posted around the site. They dispersed the demonstrators with tear gas.

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The presidential race is being watched internationally as an important gauge of populist sentiment, and the outcome is increasingly uncertain just six days before Sunday’s first-round vote.

Le Pen’s nationalist rhetoric and Melenchon’s antiglobalization campaign have resonated with French voters sick of the status quo. Macron, meanwhile, is painting himself as an antiestablishment figure seeking to bury the traditional left-right spectrum that has governed France for decades.

The top two vote-getters Sunday of the 11 candidates on the ballot advance to the May 7 presidential runoff. The latest polls suggest that Le Pen, Macron, Melenchon, and Fillon all have a chance of reaching the runoff — and as many as a third of voters remain undecided.

Macron, a former investment banker well connected in the business world, held a rally in Paris on Monday attended by 20,000 people, according to organizers.


Advocating for strong pro-European views, he has pledged to represent an ‘‘open, confident, winning France’’ in contrast with far-right and far-left rivals.

Without naming them, he said Le Pen and Melenchon want to isolate France from the rest of the world.

‘‘We feel everywhere the temptation of barbarism ready to surge in other guises. . . . No, we will not let them do it,’’ he said.

He also made an implicit reference to Fillon by suggesting some are seeking the presidency to get judicial immunity.

Fillon’s austerity-focused campaign has been damaged by accusations that he misused taxpayer money to pay his wife and children for government jobs that they allegedly did not perform. French investigators are probing the case.


Fillon denies wrongdoing and is focusing instead on security issues that resonate with many voters after two years of deadly attacks across the country. French voters will cast their ballots under a state of emergency that’s been repeatedly extended as new violence has hit.

Melenchon said he doesn’t want France to exit the European Union but would be ready to do it if other member states don’t accept negotiations to reform the 28-nation bloc.

Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon insisted Monday that he, too, remains a contender.