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Tens of thousands rally in Paris as far-left candidate Melenchon launches campaign

A day after France's presidential hopefuls were confirmed, far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon gathered thousands of supporters at a Paris rally. The veteran has called for sweeping reforms to France's constitution.

Jean-Luc Melenchon, the far-left French presidential candidate, was greeted to chants of "President! President!" as he launched his presidential campaign in Paris on Saturday.

Tens of thousands of supporters packed the streets of central Paris between the iconic squares of Place de La Bastille and Place de la Republique on the anniversary of the Paris Commune revolt in March 1871.

Melenchon, who has the backing of France's Communist party, is running on a platform vowing to bring an end to the 5th Republic and begin a sixth, with less emphasis on the power of the president. He wants to shorten France's 35-hour work week, withdraw from NATO, block free-trade deals and stop using nuclear energy.

The 65-year-old former socialist minister for vocational training has also pledged to replace what he has described as France's "presidential monarchy" with a more powerful parliament.

Following the march, Melenchon took to Twitter to thank his supporters, claiming that as many as 130,000 people had turned up.

Little chance for round two

Opinion polls suggest that Melenchon is running neck-and-neck with his left-wing rival, the socialist presidential pick, Benoit Hamon. While both men have decried the austerity policies of President Francois Hollande, Melenchon spurned Hamon's offer to join forces in the presidential race. Those divisions on the left have helped propel independent centrist Emmanuel Macron to become one of the election frontrunners.

Despite his show of strength on Saturday, Melenchon finds himself far behind Macron, the far-right National Front's Marine Le Pen and Francois Fillon of The Republicans. Melenchon finished in fourth place in the last presidential elections in 2013.

A total of 11 candidates are running to win the keys to the Elysee Palace in a campaign that has been dominated by the surging far-right, corruption charges and a diminished Socialist party.

The first round of the French presidential election will be held on April 23, with the top two candidates going through to a runoff ballot on May 7 unless one of them wins more than 50 percent of votes in the first poll.

dm/jm (AP, Reuters)

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