Tens of thousands of red flag--waving supporters of firebrand leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon gathered in Marseille on Saturday, kicking off a weekend of rallies before France’s presidential vote.
Organizers said 120,000 people rallied under sunny skies on Marseille’s beachfront to hear -Communist-backed Melenchon, who has shaken up the contest with a surge in opinion polls ahead of Sunday’s first-round vote.
Following similar big rallies in Paris and Toulouse, the Marseille event set a high bar for Socialist frontrunner Francois Hollande and French President Nicolas Sarkozy as they prepared for rival Paris rallies yesterday.
Wearing his trademark red tie and in typical fiery style, Melenchon urged the crowd to carry out a “citizens’ revolution” and a “civic insurrection.”
“My friends, my dear fellow citizens, you know it, you can feel it, you can see it — we are writing a new page in the history of the left, we are the renaissance of the left,” Melenchon told the cheering crowd.
Waving flags of the Communist Party, Melenchon’s Left Front and even a few of the Soviet Union, supporters chanted: “Resistance! Resistance!” as he took to the stage, blowing kisses to the crowd and raising his arms in a victory sign.
“This is not just about the presidential election, we are building a future for the left,” said Alain Perret, a 57-year-old retired railway worker wearing a hammer-and-sickle T-shirt in the crowd.
“Melenchon has given a new life to the left, he is an extraordinary speaker and a great spokesman for our movement,” he said.
After lashing out at capitalism, praising Marseille’s multicultural community and vowing to boost workers’ rights, Melenchon ended his speech by singing the left-wing anthem L’Internationale and France’s anthem La Marseillaise.
Melenchon, who two polls on Friday showed to be either tied or ahead of the far-right’s Marine Le Pen in third place, has struck a chord with his virulent attacks on France’s rich elite and EU-backed austerity measures.
Yesterday, Hollande and Sarkozy were looking to recreate some of the fervor that has marked Melenchon’s campaign as they competed to draw crowds and media coverage at opposite sides of the French capital.
The race entered its final week with Hollande riding a wave of confidence.
He had seen his lead over Sarkozy narrow slightly in recent weeks, but the incumbent’s late surge has not altered pollsters’ predictions and the Socialist remains on course for victory in the May 6 run-off.
Two polls published on Friday by CSA and TNS-Sofres showed Hollande winning the first round with 27 or 28 percent of the vote, ahead of Sarkozy with 26 percent in both polls.
They predicted Hollande would also win a clear victory in the May 6 second round vote, with 56 or 57 percent of the vote.
Other recent polls have shown Sarkozy ahead in the first round, but Hollande has enjoyed a consistent second-round lead in voting intentions since he won the Socialist primary in October last year and remains the clear favorite.