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Macron courts Marseille voters as climate activists stage Paris demo

French President Emmanuel Macron (AP)
French President Emmanuel Macron (AP)

French President Emmanuel Macron has held a major campaign rally in Marseille, touting his environmental and climate actions and plans in a bid to draw in young voters who supported more politically extreme candidates in the first round of France’s presidential election.

Citizens and especially millennials in Marseille, a multicultural southern French city on the Mediterranean, favoured hard-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon over the centrist Mr Macron in the first round of voting on April 10.

Marseille’s young voters, who leaned mainly to the far right and the far left last Sunday, are particularly engaged with climate issues – a point which Mr Macron hoped to capitalise on in a rousing speech on the edge of the sea.

Marine Le Pen
Marine Le Pen campaigns in Saint-Remy-sur-Avre, western France (AP)

Mr Macron faces far-right challenger Marine Le Pen in France’s April 24 presidential run-off after 10 other candidates, including Mr Melenchon, were eliminated in the first round.

The incumbent has mixed green credentials, something he hopes to improve on. Although he was associated with the slogan “Make The Planet Great Again”, in his first five-year term he capitulated to angry yellow vest protesters by scrapping a tax hike on fuel prices.

To cheers on Saturday, Mr Macron said his next prime minister would be placed in charge of “ecological planning” ahead of a plan for France to become carbon neutral by 2050.

He also promised more public transport nationwide to wean people off being dependent on cars.

French election graphic
The results in the first round of the presidential election (PA Graphics)

Even though Mr Macron come out on top in the first round of voting, the 44-year-old incumbent has publicly acknowledged that “nothing is decided” in the increasingly tight race to become France’s next leader.

In Marseille, he targeted his rival Ms Le Pen, who has gained increasing support in recent weeks.

“The far-right represents a danger for our country. Don’t just hiss at it, knock it out,” he said, citing the danger of over-confident voters abstaining from a ballot in the vital run-off vote.

Ms Le Pen spent Saturday reaching out to voters in Saint-Remy-sur-Avre, a village in the north-western France, where she visited an antiques market.

Emmanuel Macron
Mr Macron is hoping to gather support in Marseille from backers of a far-left rival from an earlier round of the poll (AP)

While campaigning on Friday, both candidates were grilled over their differing stances on Muslim religious dress in public spaces – Ms Le Pen wants to ban headscarves in France, a country that has Europe’s largest Muslim population.

Both Ms Le Pen and Mr Macron were confronted by women in headscarves who asked why their clothing choices should be caught up in politics.

Across France, protesters are railing against a host of issues ahead of the second and final presidential vote.

French election posters
The deciding vote will be held on April 24 (AP)

In the centre of Paris on Saturday, environmental group Extinction Rebellion launched a three-day demonstration against what it calls France’s inaction on climate issues.

The activists say their objective is “to put climate issues back at the centre of the presidential debate”.

Hundreds of activists from the environmental group XR are also asking both presidential candidates to make commitments to protect the environment.