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As France’s 2022 presidential campaign season officially kicked off on Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron took aim at far-right, anti-immigration candidate Eric Zemmour for allowing his supporters to accuse the incumbent of allowing foreign «criminals» into the country with chants of «Killer Macron».
Switching from his lofty perch as head of state to the rough and tumble of domestic politics, Macron hit the campaign trail in the eastern town of Dijon with a classic pre-election walkabout and a visit to a high school.
He was asked about weekend images from a Zemmour rally in Paris at which the crowd chanted «Killer Macron» as the anti-immigration candidate accused the government of letting foreign «criminals» into the country.
Zemmour rallies supporters at the Trocadéro in Paris
Both friends and foes of the incumbent president have criticised Zemmour for failing to condemn the chants, which the far-right candidate’s team claims he did not hear.
«There are two theories: the first is that it is a shameful act, which seems to be the most credible, but is not a surprise,» Macron told reporters in bright spring sunshine.
«The second one is that there’s a lack of knowledge about a very important reform during my term in office,» he added, before explaining how the cost of hearing aids was now fully covered by France’s social security system.
«I invite the hard-of-hearing candidate to get himself sorted out at a lower cost,» Macron quipped.
The French president was not the only one to round on Zemmour, who is polling in fourth place with around 11 percent support.
Mainstream conservative Valérie Pécresse, who trails Zemmour in most surveys, was among those who criticised the former pundit for allowing the crowd to continue chanting.
“I will fight the outgoing president with all my strength but to let an opponent be called a murderer is dangerous for the republic. This is certainly not the right! This is not my France,” Pécresse tweeted.
E.Zemmour laisse une foule crier «Macron assassin».
Je combats avec force le président sortant mais laisser traiter un adversaire de meurtrier, c’est dangereux pour la République. Ce n’est certainement pas ça la droite ! Ce n’est pas ça ma France ! #ZemmourTrocadero https://t.co/qn3cqYiHp2
— Valérie Pécresse (@vpecresse) March 27, 2022
Christophe Castaner, who heads the ruling LREM group in the Assemblée Nationale, France’s lower house of parliament, said Zemmour was “irresponsible” for letting the chanting continue.
Race ‘still open’
Monday’s row marked the start of the official campaign period running up to the election’s first round, with all 12 candidates in the race now entitled to equal time and space in the media.
The top two candidates in the first round will go through to a second-round run-off on April 24.
>> Explainer: How does France’s two-round presidential election work?
Macron has so far deliberately stayed out of the campaign and declined to engage directly with his opponents, insisting that he has had to focus on the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine.
He is the current favourite to win, with the war in Ukraine seen as helping raise his profile. Veteran far-right candidate Marine Le Pen is running in second place, polls suggest.
French election: Where the candidates stand two weeks from vote
A new poll by the Ipsos/Sopra Steria group published in Le Monde newspaper on Monday showed Macron on 28 percent ahead of the first round, down a point, while Le Pen had gained 1.5 points to 17.5 percent.
Le Pen continues to run a low-key campaign that has seen her tone down her usual hardline rhetoric on immigration in favour of focusing on household income, voters’ biggest priority.
Zemmour, who soared in opinion polls in September and October last year while teasing his presidential ambitions, has been overtaken by leftist firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who rallied tens of thousands of supporters in Marseille on Sunday.
Frédéric Dabi, a leading polling expert at the Ifop group, stressed that the race remained unpredictable despite Macron’s apparent strength in voter surveys.
«When I see such a low level of interest in the campaign, when I see that a quarter of French people have not made up the mind… things can still change,» he told the Public Senat channel.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)