French Leftist leader goes on trial on intimidation charges

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BOBIGNY, France (Reuters) - Leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon, one of France’s main opposition leaders, arrived at a courthouse outside Paris on Thursday at the start of his trial on charges of intimidating officials who were investigating him over possible funding irregularities.

The 68-year-old head of La France Insoumise (France Unbowed), famous for his emotional style, has cast the trial as political, saying the aim was to destroy him.

He arrived 45 minutes ahead of time at the court in Bobigny, just outside Paris, without making any statement. He waved to supporters gathered outside the courthouse.

Melenchon, a spearhead of the opposition against French President Emmanuel Macron’s economic policies and a supporter of the recent “Yellow vest” anti-government protests, won an unprecedented 19.5 percent in the first round of the 2017 presidential election.

The trial relates to 2018 raids on his home and party offices conducted at the behest of the public prosecutor’s office in Paris.

In footage shot by reporters at the scene of the raids, Melenchon and his entourage are seen yelling at the prosecutor and police officers while other supporters were breaking into the premises that had just been sealed off for the search.

Melenchon is on trial with five other people, including two members of parliament from his party.

On the separate funding allegations, prosecutors have launched two preliminary investigations, one into alleged misuse of European parliament funds and the other into suspected funding irregularities in Melenchon’s presidential campaign.

Other French political parties have been investigated for alleged misuse of European funds, far-right party Rassemblement National (National Rally) and the centrist Modem party, a Macron ally.

Reporting by Simon Carraud ; Writing by Benoit Van Overstraeten ; Editing by Christian Lowe