French President Emmanuel Macron held a large campaign rally in Marseille, touting his environmental and climate actions and plans in a bid to attract young voters who backed more politically extreme candidates in the first round of France’s presidential election.
Citizens and especially millennials in Marseille, a multicultural city in southern France on the Mediterranean, preferred far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon to centrist Mr Macron in the first round of voting on April 10.
Young Marseille voters, who leaned mostly far right and far left last Sunday, are particularly engaged on climate issues – a point Mr Macron hoped to capitalize on in a fiery seaside speech.
Mr Macron faces far-right challenger Marine Le Pen in the second round of France’s April 24 presidential election after 10 other candidates, including Mr Mélenchon, were knocked out in the first round.
The incumbent has mixed green credentials, which he hopes to improve. Despite being associated with the slogan “Make The Planet Great Again”, during his first five-year term he capitulated to angry Yellow Vest protesters by scrapping a fuel price tax hike.
To cheers on Saturday, Mr Macron said his next prime minister would be in charge of “ecological planning” ahead of a plan for France to become carbon neutral by 2050.
He also promised more public transport across the country to wean people off car addiction.
Even though Mr Macron emerged victorious in the first round of voting, the 44-year-old incumbent president has publicly acknowledged that “nothing is decided” in the increasingly tight race to become France’s next leader.
In Marseille, he took aim at his rival Ms Le Pen, who has won growing support in recent weeks.
“The extreme right represents a danger for our country. Don’t just whistle on it, knock it out,’ he said, citing the danger of overconfident voters abstaining in a ballot in the vital second round.
Ms Le Pen spent Saturday reaching out to voters in Saint-Rémy-sur-Avre, a village in northwestern France, where she visited an antiques market.
During Friday’s campaign, the two candidates were asked about their differing positions on Muslim religious dress in public spaces – Ms Le Pen wants to ban the headscarf in France, a country with the largest Muslim population in Europe.
Ms Le Pen and Mr Macron were confronted by veiled women who questioned why their dress choices should be taken up in politics.
Across France, protesters are speaking out against a host of issues ahead of the second and final presidential vote.
In central Paris on Saturday, environmental group Extinction Rebellion launched a three-day protest against what it calls France’s inaction on climate issues.
Activists say their goal is to “put climate issues back at the center of presidential debate”.
Hundreds of activists from the environmental group XR are also calling on both presidential candidates to pledge to protect the environment.