Thousands rally for far-left French candidate

AP News
Posted: Mar 18, 2012 2:29 PM
Thousands rally for far-left French candidate

Tens of thousands of French voters flooded the streets around Paris' Bastille monument on Sunday to support a far-left candidate who is playing an increasingly important role in the country's presidential election.

Jean-Luc Melenchon, leader of the Left Front, electrified a crowd that had marched to the Bastille, the iconic monument to France's revolution. He has called for a revolution of sorts himself _ including for a more egalitarian system of government.

"We're going to make this election a civic insurrection," Melenchon shouted to cheering supporters, many of whom wore red. "Today we need, in this France disfigured by social, territorial, cultural and gender inequality, to turn the page again on the Ancien Regime, to start a new chapter, that will allow us ... to re-found the republic, to re-found France itself."

In a typically anti-capitalist speech, Melenchon called for a higher minimum wage, more rights for workers and expressed sympathy for Greeks struggling under austerity measures, while denouncing their European and international taskmasters.

At the end of this speech, he led the crowd in singing the Internationale, the traditional left-wing anthem.

France's political center has long been to the left of other countries', even in Europe. But the left was marginalized and fractured in recent years as conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy set an agenda that promised to shake up the country's unions and industries and make its economy more like the United States'.

The global financial crisis, however, has taken the wind out of Sarkozy's sails and breathed new life into the French left, which is riding the same wave of discontent with corporate excess and economic inequality as the Occupy movement.

Melenchon, who is polling around 10 percent in several national polls, has managed to galvanize those voters and made some in Socialist candidate Francois Hollande's camp nervous. Hollande, the mainstream leftist candidate who leads most polls, has encouraged voters to unite behind him from the first round of the two-round election to send the strongest message possible to the right.

But many of Melenchon's supporters said Sunday that Hollande didn't go far enough and that they would use their first-round vote to express that. How many of those supporters then switch to Hollande's camp in the second round and how many instead abstain could have an important impact on the election.

The French vote in April and May.