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article imageFrench leftist leader Melenchon in hot water over Nazi comments

By Pascale JUILLIARD (AFP)     Sep 24, 2017 in World

French leftist leader Jean-Luc Melenchon was plunged into the eye of a storm on Sunday after comments about the Nazis that one minister branded "shameful".

At a mass demonstration in Paris on Saturday against labour reform, Melenchon said: "It's the street that toppled France's kings, it's the street that drove out the Nazis".

He was responding to centrist President Emmanuel Macron's comments earlier in the week that "democracy is not the street".

But Melenchon defended his remarks in the face of widespread criticism, saying on his blog on Sunday that he "never compared the current government to Nazis".

The leader of the hard left party France Unbowed, who had appealed to opponents of the labour reforms to "swamp" Paris in Saturday's demonstrations, has sought to portray his party as the only real opposition to Macron.

Several political figures quickly condemned his comments, with government spokesman Christophe Castaner saying on French radio they were a "moral" and "political error".

Castaner also tweeted a picture of Melenchon wearing a tricolour sash while addressing the crowds, saying he was "unworthy of wearing these colours when mixing Democrats and Republicans with Nazi mud".

- 'Shocked and outraged' -

Labour Minister Muriel Penicaud told French media that Melenchon's remarks were "unworthy and shameful".

"Like a great majority of French people I was shocked and outraged that Nazis, democrats and republicans could be put on the same level," she said.

"No complacency towards Melenchon, his violence, his hazardous historical references. We must be firm, explain, reform," said former Socialist prime minister Manuel Valls.

Jean-Claude Mailly, head of the Force Ouvriere trade union, said the remarks were "shocking".

"The Nazi regime was not defeated by the street, it was the allies, it was the Americans, the Russians, etc," he told French media.

"If we know a little history, the street even brought about Nazism in a certain way, so we must pay attention to what we say."

On his blog, Melenchon condemned "polemics of diversion", saying the controversy was a distraction from the number of people who joined Saturday's demonstration.

According to Melenchon, 150,000 people -- not the 30,000 estimated by police -- took to the streets to try to force Macron to back down on his signature reform.

Former investment banker Macron has argued that the labour law changes -- which make it easier to fire workers while giving higher payouts to those made redundant -- will help bring down stubbornly high unemployment of 9.6 percent.

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