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  • Jean-Luc Melenchon founded the Left Party in 2008 after 35 years in the ruling Socialist Party.

    Jean-Luc Melenchon founded the Left Party in 2008 after 35 years in the ruling Socialist Party. | Photo: AFP

Leftist candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon has been surging in recent polls, now ranking third. 

As well as trying to present himself as a genuine alternative to the far-right and free-market candidates Francois Fillon and Emmanuel Macron, Communist-backed leftwinger Jean-Luc Melenchon pitched himself as the candidate for peace on Sunday.

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Appearing in front of 70,000 supporters in the sunny southern city Marseille with an olive branch in his jacket's buttonhole, he first imposed a one-minute silence for the 30,000 asylum-seekers who died in the nearby Mediterranean sea, before repeating the word “peace” throughout his speech.

"If you want peace, don't make a mistake with your ballot," said the candidate — who split with the Socialist Party in 2008 and founded his own Left Party.

The former socialist leader, who wants France to leave NATO, fiercely condemned the airstrikes ordered by U.S. President Donald Trump in Syria.

In the first round of the 2012 presidential vote, Melenchon finished fourth with 11.1 percent, a disappointment compared with the 15 percent projected in polls. Many possibilities remain in the four last weeks of the campaign, with 78 percent of leftist voters hoping for an improbable alliance between Melenchon and socialist candidate Benoit Hamon — who represents the leftist opposition to President Francois Hollande within the Socialist Party.

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On the same day, far-right candidate Marine Le Pen denied that the French state was responsible for rounding up Jews at the Vel d'Hiv cycling track in Paris during World War II who were then sent to death camps in Nazi Germany.

"I don't think France is responsible for the Vel d'Hiv," she said on the LCI television channel. "I think that generally speaking if there are people responsible, it's those who were in power at the time. It's not France."

Former President Jacques Chirac and current leader Francois Hollande have both apologized for the role French police played in the round-up which was ordered by Nazi officers in 1942.

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