Probe opened into fights at French election campaign rally

French far right presidential candidate Eric Zemmour delivers his speech during his first rally, Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021 in Villepinte, north of Paris. Far-right former French TV pundit Eric Zemmour is holding his first campaign rally, a few days after
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The Associated PressFrench far right presidential candidate Eric Zemmour delivers his speech during his first rally, Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021 in Villepinte, north of Paris. Far-right former French TV pundit Eric Zemmour is holding his first campaign rally, a few days after he formally declared his candidacy for April’s presidential election in a video relaying his anti-migrants, anti Islam views. A first round is to be held on April, 10, 2022 and should no candidate win a majority of the vote in the first round, a runoff will be held between the top two candidates on April 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Rafael Yaghobzadeh)

LE PECQ, France — French prosecutors opened an investigation Monday into violence that erupted at the first official campaign rally of a far-right candidate who has shaken up France’s presidential race.

The prosecutors’ office said police detained around 60 people after fists and chairs flew and anti-racism campaigners were left bloodied at Eric Zemmour’s rally with thousands of supporters north of Paris on Sunday.

Campaign group SOS Racisme condemned savage beatings that targeted its activists at the rally, Zemmour’s first since the 63-year-old far-right author and former TV commentator with repeated convictions for hate speech officially launched his campaign last week for the presidential election in April.

SOS Racisme’s president, Dominique Sopo, likened the violence to white supremacist attacks against civil rights activists in the United States.

People at the rally “were so drunk with hate, so open with their hatred and their violence, that they’re not bothered about beating people and women bloody with cameras present,” Sopo said. “This candidate unleashes hatred in his wake.”

As well as the violence targeting SOS Racisme campaigners, the prosecutors’ office said it also is investigating a fracas that involved Zemmour himself.

Video images showed a man surging out of the crowd with arms outstretched as the candidate walked through throngs at the rally. The man appeared to briefly lock arms around Zemmour’s neck before he was pulled off.

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