LONDON: French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin has said he is seeking to dissolve an “ultra-right” group believed to be responsible for attacks on anti-racism campaigners who protested at a rally for presidential hopeful Eric Zemmour.
The Zouaves, who support Zemmour’s anti-immigration and anti-Islam ideology, are believed to have attacked members of SOS Racisme.
The anti-racism campaigners said they had hoped to protest peacefully, but five of their members were injured when people attacked them. Dozens were reportedly arrested following the incident, including members of SOS Racisme.
In footage of that night eight days ago, a man is seen violently punching the head of a young woman wearing a “No to racism” T-shirt.
Other assailants kicked and threw chairs at protesters. After the meeting, police said they had identified about 50 people linked to the Zouaves who posed for a picture and chanted: “On est chez nous (this is our home),” AFP reported.
Darmanin on Monday said: “I have initiated the procedure to dissolve this de facto grouping that are the Zouaves, which is a group of people who come from either the GUD (a former far-right student union) or Action Française, that is to say, well-known ultra-right movements.”
Jean-Yves Camus, a political analyst from the Jean-Jaurès Foundation think tank, said the Zouaves “have by far one of the most violent pedigrees of all far-right groups.”
They have been linked to a series of violent attacks, including an assault on football supporters waving an Algerian flag in Paris during the 2018 World Cup, and during France’s yellow vest demonstrations.
The public prosecutor has opened an investigation into the violence at Zemmour’s meeting.
Dominique Sopo, president of SOS Racisme, said: “You either have to be drunk with racism or be certain of your omnipotence to be able to act like that in front of cameras.
“It’s absolutely astonishing, and it shows what this candidate is, and what the public he draws is, and who the militants who gathered there are.”
Zemmour is a controversial figure and TV personality whose history of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric has landed him in hot water with French authorities.
In 2011, he was fined €10,000 ($11,281) for claiming on TV that “most drug dealers are black and Arab,” and in 2018 he was ordered to pay €3,000 for comments about a Muslim “invasion” of France.
France will vote on its next president in April.