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French far-right commentator Eric Zemmour announces presidential run

The former journalist becomes the top contender to challenge far-right leader Marine Le Pen for a place in a second round against President Emmanuel Macron.
FRANCE-POLITICS
Eric Zemmour at a news conference at Notre Dame de La Garde in Marseille, France, on Friday.Christophe Simon / AFP via Getty Images

PARIS — Far-right commentator Eric Zemmour said Tuesday that he will stand in France’s presidential election next year, confirming his political ambitions after he dominated the headlines for weeks with provocative comments about immigration.

Zemmour, a former journalist who has been convicted of inciting hatred, becomes the top contender to challenge Marine Le Pen, the leader of the more established far-right National Rally, for a place in a second round against President Emmanuel Macron.

“For a long time I was happy with the role of journalist ... but I no longer trust that a politician will have the courage to save the country from the tragic fate that awaits it,” Zemmour said in a video posted on social media.

“That’s why I have decided to stand in the presidential election.”

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His hard-line criticism of Islam and immigration has made him a polarizing figure, drawing support both from Le Pen’s voter base and from the mainstream conservative right while alienating others in France.

After a meteoric rise in opinion polls over the past weeks, with several surveys forecasting that he would make it to the runoff, his popularity has been slipping.

Eric Zemmour in west London on Nov. 19 speaking to members of Britain's French community. Tolga Akmen / AFP via Getty Images

At this stage, most opinion polls forecast that Macron and Le Pen will face each other in April in the second round, which Macron would be likely to win in a repeat of the 2017 election.

But Zemmour led Le Pen for a while in recent weeks, and the race for the No. 2 spot is still neck and neck in some surveys. There is plenty of time for the race to change again by April.

“So far, it was a warm-up. The real race begins,” said an email that a spokesperson for Friends of Eric Zemmour sent to his supporters before the video’s publication.

Zemmour’s campaign has been stalling after various mishaps.

One was over the weekend, when he was photographed giving the middle finger to a protester after a tumultuous campaign stop in Marseille. He also sued the gossip magazine Closer after it claimed that he was expecting a baby with his chief political aide.

Opinion polls also indicate that he has shocked some voters with provocative comments — from saying children shouldn’t be given foreign-sounding names to claiming that the French government that collaborated with the Nazis during World War II protected Jews. And he has lost the backing of some high-profile supporters, French media say.