French leftist Melenchon rallies before presidential vote

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French far-left candidate for the upcoming presidential election Jean-Luc Melenchon delivers a speech after a march in Paris, Sunday, March 20, 2022. Jean-Luc Melenchon is rising in the polls ahead of April 10th and 24th election. (AP Photo/Thomas Padilla)

PARIS – Three weeks before France’s presidential election, far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon rallied tens of thousands of supporters Sunday on the streets of Paris for his biggest campaign event to date — one in which he framed himself as the anti-Emmanuel Macron candidate.

Polling in third or fourth place in the presidential vote, Melenchon — who has been known as “Melen-show” for his crowd-attracting rhetoric — aimed to unite left-leaning supporters after the brutal stumbles of the French Socialists in recent years.

“We are going to win! Melenchon! President!” chanted supporters ahead of a 45-minute speech during which the rebellious leftist highlighted contrasts with Macron, the incumbent president who polls consider the favorite to win the vote. The 70-year-old criticized Macron’s plan for different teaching methods in school and backed lowering the retirement age from 62 to 60.

Under Macron, it will be, he said, “the end of the republican school, the end of the one and indivisible French people,” he claimed. “Vote (for me and) you will retire at 60!”

Melenchon's campaign officials said 100,000 supporters attended the central Paris rally.

France’s first round of the presidential election takes place on April 10, with a presidential runoff on April 24 if no candidate wins outright.

In 2017, the charismatic Melenchon failed to reach the presidential runoff, in which Macron beat far-right challenger Marine Le Pen.