France will be on extra high alert on Monday as workers and protesters use the traditional 1 May marches to stage a show of force against the far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen.
Up to 250 events have been planned across France on a day of symbolic importance in the Front National calendar when it holds its annual gathering to honour the party’s heroine, Joan of Arc.
In Paris, union leaders and political militants have urged a massive turnout to march between three of the capital’s most symbolic squares: from Place de la République to Place de la Nation via Bastille, in opposition to the FN and Le Pen.
The challenge for the city’s forces of law and order will be keeping the two sides apart in an already extremely volatile atmosphere and when the country is still under a state of emergency put in place after the November 2015 terrorist attack.
Police have said their biggest concern was of a potential lone act similar to that on the Champs Elysées 10 days ago when a man armed with an automatic rifle shot dead a police officer, Xavier Jugelé, and injured two of his colleagues.
In Paris, more than 9,000 police, gendarmes and soldiers will be on duty and have been authorised to stop and search vehicles and pedestrians and to conduct identity checks in four central arrondissements.
The first event will be the massing of FN supporters at 7.30am at the Palais Royal in the central 1st arrondissement, where the party founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, will lay a wreath at the statue of Joan of Arc on her horse. Supporters will then march along rue de Rivoli ending at Pyramides where Jean-Marie Le Pen will give a speech. The crowd is expected to disperse at about 1pm.
The communist newspaper L’Humanité wrote that as in 2002, when Jean-Marie Le Pen was in the second round of the presidential vote, “workers’ day will have a particular importance this Monday. Almost all unions have called for demonstrations not just to combat the FN but also to reclaim social progress during these marches.” It added: “The unions are unanimously against the extreme right.”
France’s main unions were unable to agree on a plan for the “day of mobilisation” and will hold separate events. Four other unions are holding a joint march leaving Place de la République at 2.30pm, at which up to 40,000 are expected to be kept in order by 2,000 police.
“The demonstration shouldn’t pose any particular problem. We’re just a little worried about radical movements joining in the workers’ celebration to upset events,” a police spokesperson told Le Figaro.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon, of the hard-left France Insoumise (Unbowed France) movement, who was defeated in the first round presidential vote last Sunday, will be present at the afternoon march.
Other demonstrations are planned for Toulouse, Nice, Marseille, Lille, Poitiers and other cities.
On Monday evening, the second round favourite, Emmanuel Macron, will hold a rally at Paris Event Centre in La Villette, in the eastern part of the capital. Le Pen is holding a rally starting at midday at the Exhibitions Park at Villepinte, north-east of Paris.
On Thursday, several hundred masked and black-clad anti capitalist and anti-FN demonstrators – reportedly mostly students – threw stones at police who used teargas to break up their protest. Protesters shouted: “Not Marine nor Macron, not homeland nor bosses” – a repudiation of Le Pen’s nationalism and Macron’s image as a friend to bosses and big business.