Approximately 1,100 far-left protesters descended on Lille on Saturday to disrupt a scheduled rally in support of French conservative presidential candidate, Éric Zemmour.
Protests began shortly before 2 p.m. on Saturday outside the Grand Palais in Lille where Zemmour was due to make a speech to almost 8,000 supporters.
Footage circulating on social media showed masked Antifa activists firing flares at French police deployed to “prevent any risk of excesses and clashes,” according to a police source. Authorities responded in kind, using tear gas to keep activists intent on shutting down the event at bay.
Martine Aubry, the socialist mayor of Lille, was also in attendance supporting the far-left protesters. She urged the French electorate to reject Zemmour, who she described as a “character whose only engine is hatred.”
Protesters brought banners which read “Frame Bloc — Bring them to their knees” and chanted “Everyone hates Zemmour.”
Thousands attended the rally in support of Éric Zemmour, who delivered a rousing speech behind a backdrop with the slogan: “Impossible is not French.”
The presidential candidate, battling it out to be the main contender to dethrone the incumbent Emmanuel Macron, vowed to reform France’s immigration, healthcare and social housing policies, including a pledge to reward French mothers with a €10,000 grant for each baby born in rural France to encourage a rise in the birth rate of the indigenous French population.
“As soon as we come to power, we will stop taking from the French the billions of euros devoted each year to the reception and maintenance of the millions of foreigners who live on our soil,” Zemmour promised the vast crowd, prompting a chorus of cheers.
Zemmour’s conservative rival Marine Le Pen held a similar rally on Saturday, with her presidential campaign’s official launch taking place in the eastern city of Reims.
Le Pen, who remains ahead of Zemmour in the polls, pulled no punches in her criticism of Macron, who she described as “despicable and depressing,” and vowed to “be the president who will give security back to France.”
The French head to the polls for the first round of the presidential election campaign April 10.