French conservatives remove leader Eric Ciotti for backing Le Pen pact

France’s conservative Republicans party says it has removed leader Eric Ciotti for trying to strike an electoral alliance with the far-right National Rally (RN) of Marine Le Pen, although he insisted he was still in the post.

The Republicans’ political committee voted unanimously to remove Ciotti, Member of Parliament Annie Genevard said on Wednesday, adding that the party “will present candidates to the French public with clarity and independence” at snap polls called by President Emmanuel Macron for June 30 and July 7.

He closed the party headquarters near the National Assembly lower house for the day on Wednesday after the political committee called an emergency meeting, saying there had “never been any meeting planned at the HQ this afternoon”.

Ciotti claimed the move was for staff safety “after receiving threats”.

The politician from Nice in southeast France “was no longer president from the second he made this insane decision” to announce an alliance with the RN, senior lawmaker Aurelien Pradie had earlier told broadcaster France 2.

Long a “party of government” bringing presidents like Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac to power, the Republicans have been squeezed between President Emmanuel Macron’s centrists and the far right since 2017.

Macron defends snap polls

After Macron on Sunday announced snap elections in the wake of his own European vote battering, Ciotti on Tuesday declared he had made an electoral deal with the RN – taking much of his own party by surprise.

“In politics, the answer isn’t coalition deals, little pacts made behind closed doors to secure constituencies,” said Laurent Wauquiez, Republican president of the Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes region.

“We try to convince people, we may fail to convince people. But we do it clearly and with a spine,” he added. “The Republicans have to communicate their ideas simply but clearly in this legislative battle.”

Meanwhile, Macron on Wednesday defended his decision to call the snap vote in what amounted to a campaign speech, and urged parties on both sides of the political centre to join him in the battle against the hard right.

Macron, who ruled out quitting if his ruling alliance loses, called on “our compatriots and political leaders who do not recognise themselves in the extremist fever” to “build a new project … a coalition to govern”.

Macron called the election on Sunday after the anti-immigration, eurosceptic RN came out on top in a vote for the European Parliament.

The RN is expected to win 31 percent of votes in the first round national vote on June 30, while a left-wing alliance would get 28 percent, an Elabe poll on Wednesday showed.

Macron’s ticket is seen clinching 18 percent.

Political commentators say the battle between the far right and left will determine who comes out on top in the legislative election, which will be decided in the second round on July 7.

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