Fights started outside French town halls tonight as they came under the control of the far-right National Front for the first time following dramatic gains in local elections.
Exit polls suggested that the anti-immigration and anti-Europe party had roundly beaten the governing Socialists in a number of key constituencies.
‘Demonstrators are trying to get at the Front representatives and starting fights,’ said a police spokesman in Frejus, the picturesque Mediterranean town which is hugely popular with British tourists.
Frejus and nearby Beziers are now expected to have National Front (FN) mayors sworn in, along with around five other towns, following a nationwide drubbing for President Francois Hollande’s Socialists.
Riot police were also out in force in other parts of the country as anti-fascist demonstrators threatened FN candidates with violence.
It meant further humiliation for Mr Hollande, whose disastrous tax and spend policies have led to economic stagnation, so opening the electoral door to the FN, which is regularly accused of being racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-Muslim.
David Rachline, who is expected to become the FN mayor of Frejus, is a former head of the party’s youth movement, and still just 26.
Mr Rachline said: ‘The political establishment has failed the people – it has ruined the town and filled its pockets.
‘You can’t talk about a protest vote any more – the Front’s scores show that people are backing its ideas.’
In a deeply humiliating blow for the Socialist government, finance minister Pierre Moscovici was unseated from the town council in Valentigny in the Doubs department.
Mr Moscovici, who was tasked by Mr Hollande with leading the French economy out of recession, is deeply unpopular with the French people.
There were also gains for the UMP conservative opposition, as Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, the spokesman for Mr Hollande’s government, said: ‘These are bad results for the Left. Disappointing.’
The FN took 50.26 per cent of the vote in the northern town of Henin-Beaumont last Sunday, giving it an instant majority and meaning it already has its first mayor there.
‘We have moved on to a new level,’ said Ms Le Pen. ‘There is now a third major political force in our country.’