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French left-winger Mélenchon hits back in Nazis row

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Jean-Luc Mélenchon speaks at Saturday's demonstration AFP

French hard-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon hit back Sunday after being accused of comparing the government to the Nazis. Ministers slammed remarks he made on an anti-government demonstration on Saturday as "undignified and shameful".


President Emmanuel Macron this week declared he would not give in to demonstrations against his labour reform on the grounds that “democracy is not made in the street”.

On Saturday Mélenchon took issue with that assertion.

“It was the street that toppled the kings and the Nazis”, as well as forcing policy reversals on right-wing the governments of Alain Juppé and Nicolas Sarkozy, he said.

Nazis and verbal violence

Government spokesman Christophe Castaner immediately tweeted that the left-winger was “mixing up democrats and republicans with the Nazi filth”.

And, in a radio broadcast on Sunday, he said he was guilty of a “moral fault”.

Castaner accused Mélenchon of “verbal violence” and went on “we shouldn’t be surprised by excesses we saw this week”, in reference to an arson attack by anarchists on gendarmes’ premises in Grenoble.

Labour Minister Muriel Pénicaud also chipped in on Sunday.

“For many French people who know our history, these words are undignified and shameful,” she said. “Like many French people, we are collectively insulted by this lack of respect for our history.”

And former prime minister Manuel Valls, who quit the Socialist Party to support Macron, tweeted “No complacency in relation to Mélenchon, his violence, his dangerous historic references. We must be firm, explain, reform.”

Mélenchon replies

For Mélenchon the attacks were a “diversion” to obstruct the “march of the people”.

“I never compared the present government to the Nazis, that goes without saying,” he wrote on his Facebook page.

Macron, who has faced demonstrations against his labour reform and a drop in poll ratings, has “come up against the will of the people not to be robbed of their rights”, he said, warning against the “manipulative tendencies” of the Macron camp.

“That is the disquieting side of this government,” he concluded. “The reassuring side is that that is all it has left. And the few journalists who play its game are even more detested than the government.”

The demonstration, organised by Mélenchon’s France Unbowed party against what it dubs Macron’s “social coup d’état”, attracted 30,000 people according to police, 150,000 according to the France Unbowed.

As Mélenchon was keen to point out in his statement, the police congratulated the organisers on the stewarding of the march and rally.