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French protesters are standing up to the far right ahead of the country's snap elections

Protesters hold an anti-far right banner during a rally in Paris, Saturday, June 15, 2024.  (AP Photo/Michel Euler) Protesters hold an anti-far right banner during a rally in Paris, Saturday, June 15, 2024. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
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PARIS, France -

Anti-racism groups joined French unions and a brand-new left-wing coalition in protests in Paris and across France on Saturday against the surging nationalist far right as frenzied campaigning is underway ahead of snap parliamentary elections.

The French Interior Ministry said 21,000 police and gendarmes would be deployed at the rallies with authorities expecting between 300,000 and 500,000 protesters nationwide.

In Paris, those who fear that the elections will produce France's first far-right government since World War II gathered at Place de la Republique before marching through eastern Paris.

A large crowd turned out in spite of rainy and windy weather, holding placards reading "Liberty for all, Equality for all and Fraternity with all" -- a reference to France's national motto -- as well as "Let's break frontiers, documents for all, no to the immigration bill."

Some chanted "Free Palestine, viva Palestina," and wore keffiyeh scarves.

Among them was Nour Cekar, a 16-year-old high school student from the Paris region, who has French and Algerian parents and wears a hijab.

"To me, the extreme right is a danger because it supports an ideology based on the fear of the other, whereas we are all French citizens despite our differences," she told The Associated Press.

Cekar said she will vote for the left-wing coalition because "it is the only political party that addresses racism and Islamophobia."

"I fear the rise of the National Rally because I am afraid that they will ban the hijab in name of women's liberty. I am a woman and I should be able to decide what I want to wear. I am a free woman," she said, adding that she is insulted on social media and in the streets on a daily basis because of her headscarf.

In the French Riviera city of Nice, protesters marched down Jean Medecin Avenue, the city's main shopping street, chanting against the National Rally, its leader Jordan Bardella as well as against President Emmanuel Macron.

Protest organizers said 3,000 took part, while the police put the number at 2,500.

Nice is traditionally a conservative stronghold, but has over the past decade turned firmly in favour of Marine Le Pen's National Rally and her far-right rival Eric Zemmour.

Crowds have been gathering daily ever since the anti-immigration National Rally made historic gains in the European Parliament elections on Sunday, crushing Macron's pro-business moderates and prompting him to dissolve the National Assembly.

New elections for the lower house of parliament were set in two rounds, for June 30 and July 7. Macron remains president until 2027 and in charge of foreign policy and defence, but his presidency would be weakened if the National Rally wins and takes power of the government and domestic policy.

"We need a democratic and social upsurge -- if not the extreme right will take power," French unions said in a statement Friday. "Our Republic and our democracy are in danger."

They noted that in Europe and across the world, extreme-right leaders have passed laws detrimental to women, the LGBTQ+ community, and people of colour.

To prevent the National Rally party from winning the upcoming elections, left-wing parties finally agreed Friday to set aside differences over the wars in Gaza and Ukraine and form a coalition. They urged French citizens to defeat the far right.

French opinion polls suggest the National Rally -- whose founder has been repeatedly convicted of racism and antisemitism -- is expected to be ahead in the first round of the parliamentary elections. The party came out on top in the European elections, garnering more than 30 per cent of the vote cast in France, almost twice as many votes as Macron's party Renaissance.

Macron's term is still on for three more years, and he would retain control over foreign affairs and defence regardless of the result of the French parliamentary elections.

But his presidency would be weakened if the National Rally wins, which could put its 28-year-old party leader Bardella on track to become the next prime minister, with authority over domestic and economic affairs.

Associated Press writer Barbara Surk in Nice, France, contributed to this report.

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