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Sarkozy chose a symbol of prosperity and national unity to address supporters as he battles for his political survival.
A week before the start of France’s presidential elections, three main candidates have staged massive rallies at symbolic locations rich with political and historic symbolism, according to media reports.
The dueling rallies occurred simultaneously, creating a clamor and cacophony of opposing rhetoric in a single Sunday afternoon.
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Front-runner François Hollande, the socialist challenger expected to unseat President Nicolas Sarkozy, staged a rally, which organizers said drew 100,000 supporters out in brisk weather, at the esplanade of the Château de Vincennes, 14th-century fortress east of Paris with a 170-foot tower once meant to hold French kings in times of trouble, according to the news magazine Le Nouvel Observateur. (The tower was also once used to imprison 19th century revolutionaries, the magazine said.)
Hollande appeared to have taken a leaf out of the Obama 2008 playbook.
“It is an exceptional choice at an exceptional time to choose the one who will lead France at a time of crisis, when Europe is weakened and France is diminished,” Hollande said, according to Le Point. “I feel, but you as well feel, a great hope rising, a hope from the depths of our country, of you. It is a calm hope, a firm hope, a lucid hope, the hope of the rebound, the righting, of justice, of the youth of France which is here and encourages us.”
At the same moment, President Sarkozy addressed supporters at Place de la Concorde, according Le Huffington Post, the American news website’s French edition. The site is a central Paris plaza named in honor of France’s national reconciliation after the provisional government known as The Terror, which executed 100,000 supposed “counter-revolutionaries.” The scene in a wealthy part of the capital appeared to be symbol harkening to time of calming revolutionary ardor.
“What is at stake is the survival of a form of civilization, ours,” he said, according to Le Point, accusing his adversaries of “allowing the heritage of eternal France to be dilapidated.”
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Meanwhile, the radical leftist Jean-Luc Melanchon claimed to have gathered 120,000 supporters in Marseille on Saturday, according to the Swiss broadcaster RTS. According to Le Huffington Post, he had created a sensation last month after staging what he called the “re-storming of the Bastille,” or reenacting the moment when Parisians broke open a jail to free people they thought were prisoners of the French crown, considered the moment the French monarchy succumbed to the revolution.