France has banned an extremist right-wing youth group which was blamed for causing violence at a raucous rally by far-right presidential candidate Eric Zemmour.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said a group called Zouaves Paris, an old word for elite French troops who fought in Africa in the 19th century, had been shut down for inciting hatred and violence.
A decree published by Mr Darmanin’s office described it as an ultranationalist group known for violent agitation, overtly racist ideology and the use of Nazi and Ku Klux Klan symbols.
The group’s public statements had promoted ideas of white supremacy and sought to link immigrant arrivals to “threats that the French have to fight”, the decree said.
It said the group’s supporters had sought out “street battles” targeting their opponents and undermining the rule of law. Some of its members had previously armed themselves with tear gas, firecrackers and baseball bats.
The violence culminated in the messy brawl at Mr Zemmour’s rally last month, where some of the Zouaves were accused of attacking members of an anti-racism group called SOS Racisme.
Chairs were hurled and punches thrown at the chaotic rally in Villepinte, near Paris, in which Mr Zemmour suffered minor injuries after he was grabbed and put in a headlock by an unknown assailant.
Mr Darmanin said the ban on Zouaves Paris had been imposed “in line with the instructions of the president”, Emmanuel Macron, who is expected to seek a second term at April’s election.
One of the leaders of the Zouaves was detained and charged with assault after the rally, which was Mr Zemmour’s first event since entering the presidential race. The group was thought to have about 20 hard-core members.
Its members took the side of Mr Zemmour, a TV pundit with no political experience who has convictions for inciting racial hatred and is known for his tirades against Islam and immigration.
Often compared to former US president Donald Trump, he is running on a platform of restoring a French national identity he describes as being under threat from liberal, multicultural modernity.
He has siphoned off some support from rival candidate Marine Le Pen and her National Rally party, the traditional standard-bearers of the nationalist right.
But his momentum has stalled after an initial meteoric rise, and polls suggest he is in a three-way battle to qualify for the second round – which is likely to pit Mr Macron against one of the challengers to his right.
A new survey published on Wednesday showed Mr Zemmour, Ms Le Pen and centre-right candidate Valerie Pecresse all tied on 16 per cent, with Mr Macron on 24 per cent.
The poll by Harris Interactive showed Mr Macron beating all three in the run-off, but only by a bare 51-49 margin against Ms Pecresse. The president was tipped to take 61 per cent in a head-to-head race with Mr Zemmour.
Mr Macron gave his clearest indication yet this week that he plans to enter the race, but his comments were overshadowed by his warning that he would pester unvaccinated people until they get a shot against Covid-19.