France: Jean-Luc Melenchon surges into third spot as 70,000 turn out for Marseille mass meeting

A mass meeting for leftist presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon.

Presenting himself as a genuine alternative to the far-right candidate National Front and free-market candidates Francois Fillon and Emmanuel Macron, left-winger Jean-Luc Melenchon who has surged into third sport in France's presidential race, whose first round is set for April 23. The Left Party's Melenchon pitched himself as the candidate for peace and solidarity across borders at a mass meeting on April 8 attended by 70,000 supporters in Marseille.

With an olive branch in his jacket's buttonhole, he began with a a one-minute silence for the 30,000 asylum-seekers who died in the nearby Mediterranean sea. He insisted: "If you want peace, don't make a mistake with your ballot," said the candidate — who split with the Socialist Party in 2008 to found the Left Party. Last year, Melenchon launched a broader movement known as "Unsubmissive France" that calls for a constituent assembly to draft a enw constitution for a new "Sixth Republic".

The former socialist leader, who wants France to leave NATO, condemned the air strikes ordered by US President Donald Trump in Syria.

In the aftermath of an April 4 televised debate between all presidential candidates Melenchon surged to 17% in the polls, up from 10% in January. A couple of days later, a YouGov survey for the Huffington Post and CNews confirmed the trend, finding a popularity surge from 24 percent to 38 percent for Melenchon, while all the other candidates dropped.

In the first round of the 2012 presidential vote, Melenchon finished fourth with 11.1%. Many possibilities remain in the four last weeks of the campaign, with 78% of left-leaning voters hoping for an improbable alliance between Melenchon and Benoit Hamon, from the traditional social democratic Socialist Party (PS) — who represents a position to the left of the wildly disliked PS President Francois Hollande. Elected in 2012 on a platform of breaking with austerity and taking on the banks, Hollande did the opposite, sparking large union-led protests.

On the same day, the National Front candidate Marine Le Pen denied that the French state was responsible for rounding up Jews at the Vel d'Hiv cycling track in Paris during World War II who were then sent to death camps in Nazi Germany. Former French presidents have apologised for the actions of French authorities in rounding up Jewish people.

[Compiled from TeleSUR English.]