Melenchon, running third in French election race, promises to tame capitalism
PARIS, March 20 (Reuters) - French far-left presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, who may yet challenge for a place in the April election's crucial runoff, on Sunday promised to lower the age of retirement, hike the minimum wage and freeze food and fuel prices.
Melenchon, who denounces the free-market economy and instead advocates state intervention in the economy to spread wealth and guarantee what he calls a dignified life for all workers, told a campaign rally in Paris he would tax the wealthy hard.
"The free market, as you see, is chaos. Another world is possible," Melenchon told thousands of supporters in the French capital's Place de la Republique.
Melenchon, now polling around 13% in voter support surveys compared with 9-10% in January, has risen to third place in the election race behind the incumbent President Emmanuel Macron and far-right Marine Le Pen. read more
The 70-year-old's campaign received a boost this month when left-winger and feminist icon Christiane Taubira exited the race. With the traditional centre-left Parti Socialiste (Socialist Party) verging on irrelevance and the Greens struggling to galvanise a wide support base, Melenchon appealed to undecided voters and those who might abstain to back him.
"The Socialists are a spent force. The only one who can help us, who can save us, is Melenchon," said restaurant kitchen worker Rita Alves.
In his campaign manifesto, Melenchon, a strong orator running for president for the third time, pledges to put controls on the movement of capital, guarantees jobs for the long-term unemployed and a minimum wage of 1,400 euros ($1,548) net per month.
He says he would also lower the retirement age to 60 from 62, unlike Macron who says it must be raised to 65 to balance the pension bill.
"The time has come for a collective decision, to put people first, and whose service the economy must be, and not the other way around," Melenchon told the crowd.
Melenchon says he would also withdraw France from NATO and block future European Union free trade agreements.
Polls forecast Macron would defeat both Le Pen and Melenchon in the April 24 second round-vote.
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