France bans extreme-right group after rally violence

Zouaves Paris have been banned after being blamed for beating up anti-racism activists at a Zemmour rally in December.

A torn poster of the French far-right media pundit and presidential hopeful, Eric Zemmour in Paris.
A torn poster of the French far-right media pundit and presidential hopeful, Eric Zemmour in Paris. A group that beat up anti-racism demonstrators at one of his rallies has been banned. (Photo by JOEL SAGET / AFP)

France Wednesday banned an extreme-right youth group known as the “Zouaves Paris” blamed for attacks on anti-racism activists at a raucous rally last month by far-right presidential candidate Eric Zemmour.

“The group ‘Zouaves Paris’ was banned this morning at a cabinet meeting, in line with the instructions of the President” Emmanuel Macron, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin wrote on Twitter, saying the group had incited “hatred and violence”.

READ MORE Zemmour rally near Paris marred as anti-racism activists attacked during protest

The decree prohibiting the group, founded in 2017 and believed to have only around 20 hardcore members, said it “propagated an openly racist discourse” that included “symbols of Nazi ideology” and “white superiority”.

Members were accused of assaulting activists from SOS Racisme at the December 5 rally by Zemmour shortly after the controversial pundit announced his candidacy for the 2022 presidential elections.

Its leader Marc de Cacqueray-Valmenier, 23, was detained and charged with assault. The group takes its name from elite units of French troops who fought in Africa in the 19th century.

READ MORE: We can expect more violence during French presidential campaign

Zemmour is accused by opponents of being a racist, an allegation he denies. He has repeatedly however criticised Islam and immigration, which he says are harming French identity.

The rally was marked by clashes with anti-racism activists, and Zemmour himself was at one point put in a headlock and suffered an injury to his wrist.

Zemmour’s campaign enjoyed a surge in popularity ahead of the declaration of his candidacy, but it appears to have slackened in recent weeks, although most polls still predict he will win around 15 percent in the first round.

He is currently facing a struggle to muster the 500 signatures needed from French mayors to formally register his candidacy.

READ MORE Could a French electoral rule stop Zemmour from running for president?

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French Mediterranean resort’s far-right mayor bans burkinis

The far-right mayor of a resort on the Mediterranean coast of France has banned Muslim women from wearing burkinis in any of the town's swimming pools or beaches - despite previous court rulings saying that this is illegal.

French Mediterranean resort's far-right mayor bans burkinis

Three days after the southeastern city of Grenoble voted to allow swimmers to wear the full-cover swimsuit, the mayor of Fréjus – a member of Marine Le Pen’s far right Rassemblement National party – announced that he had decided to outlaw it.

“I learned with amazement of the authorisation given by the mayor of Grenoble to authorise the burkini in the swimming pools of its commune,” David Rachline wrote in a press release. 

READ ALSO OPINION: If France is to belong in a multicultural world it must accept its Muslim women

In fact, Grenoble updated its rules for municipal swimming pools to allow all bathers to wear any swimsuit – including burkinis – that protected them from the sun. It also permits women to swim topless if they wish and men to wear swim shorts instead of Speedos.

No-one seems to have had an issue with the swim shorts or the topless rule, but the addition of the ‘burkini’ to the list of accepted swimwear caused a major stir, with many lining up to condemn the move – including France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, who ordered the local Préfet to review the decision, and later announced that he had asked for a legal challenge to the new regulations.

READ ALSO French government aims to block ‘burkinis’ in swimming pools

Rachline has pre-empted any decision from the government by acting unilaterally, trotting out the familiar refrain from the right that the decision in Grenoble goes against the “fundamental republican principle of secularism”.

“The express authorisation of the burkini is neither more nor less than an electoral provocation with a communitarian spring, implemented by the radical left,” he said.

“I see a culpable complacency with radical Islamism, for electoral purposes and in defiance of national cohesion.

“In order for things to be clearly stated, I have decided, as mayor of Fréjus, guarantor of public hygiene and safety, to modify the corresponding decrees to explicitly specify the ban on the burkini.”

His ban extends to both the town’s municipal swimming pools and its beaches, and he’s not the first southern mayor to attempt to ban burkinis on beaches.

In 2016, Cannes mayor David Lisnard issued an anti-burkini order on the beaches of his town.

The decision, which had also been taken in municipalities such as Villeneuve-Loubet (Alpes-Maritimes), was overturned after an opinion from the Conseil d’Etat, one of France’s highest legal authorities.