Far-right French presidential candidate Eric Zemmour said on Wednesday that he could seize the homes of African leaders and block remittances to their countries if they failed to take back immigrants, as he seeks to reboot his flagging campaign.
Zemmour, 63, a former political commentator, has made immigration and security the center of his campaign and said this week that, if elected, he would create a Ministry of "Re-Immigration" that would deport hundreds of thousands of immigrants over his five-year term.
That campaign promise drew a rebuke from the National Rassemblement's Marine Le Pen, who is also far-right. She called the proposal "anti-republican" in a Tuesday interview with BFM TV, though she declined, when pressed, to say if it was racist.
Zemmour had been considered to be a formidable challenger to Le Pen, but is trying to reverse his political fortunes as opinion polls have shown him dropping behind his competitors and unlikely to make it to the second and final round of the election next month.
President Emmanuel Macron, a centrist whose policymaking has drifted to the right, and Le Pen are front-runners in the first round of the election, polls show, in a re-run of the 2017 election. Macron is favored to win the final round.
As president, Zemmour would go to Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia to negotiate accords for the expulsions, he has said. About 30% of French immigrants were born in one of those three countries, according to the French Institute of Demographic Studies.
Asked what he would do if the countries' leaders refused, Zemmour told a news conference: "The heads of African countries have homes in France. We could seize them, you see. There are a number of foreigners who send money through Western Union. That's an important part of the budgets of these countries. We can block them. I call those ways to put pressure."
Zemmour insisted on Wednesday he was the only presidential candidate in the race who could unify a fragmented French right.
He also defended his focus on immigration despite Russia's invasion of Ukraine, saying France's main challenges remained "identity and security".
"It's not because of an exterior crisis that interior crises miraculously evaporate," Zemmour said.