Eric Zemmour’s journey towards the French presidential elections took a lively turn on Saturday as the prospective candidate exchanged middle-finger salutes with a passerby.
Mr Zemmour, who was on a two-day visit to Marseille, was captured in a car by an Agence France Presse photographer while returning the offensive gesture received from an unknown woman. For good measure, he told the woman that his finger was designed to go “very deep”.
He later explained to his entourage that the salute “happened on its own”.
The rude gestures came after a walkabout on the streets of the southern port city that had to be cut short due to constant booing by militant opposition.
Mr Zemmour, a Right-wing firebrand who courts controversy, was planning to talk to locals but called off the vox pop after what local press said was less than 15 minutes, after local media reported eggs were thrown, although none hit Mr Zemmour.
He had previously got off the train carrying him to Marseilles a stop early in order to avoid a hostile welcoming party. An aide claimed journalists had deliberately leaked his itinerary to Left-wing protestors, who were also present outside his hotel and the restaurant where he had dinner.
Mr Zemmour, who has been likened to Donald Trump for his populist politics and controversial statements, said Marseille had been “disintegrated by immigration” and that if nothing was done the whole of France would, in an initial phase, come to resemble the city.
Marseilles has been the location for gang violence and, last month, a row over striking dustmen.
In a later phase, France was set to look “like Lebanon”, he said, as the Middle Eastern nation suffers acute energy and currency crises. He dismissed claims that Marseille was a cosmopolitan city as “a myth”.
Left-wing media such as France’s la Libération newspaper speculated that the Marseille escapade could spell the end of Mr Zemmour's dramatic rise.
He is expected to officially declare his candidacy for the 2022 presidential election next week and hold a Paris rally in early December.
While his popularity, as indicated by polls, has slipped in recent days, the outcome of next April’s presidential elections is still far from certain.
France elects its president across two rounds of voting, with incumbent Emmanuel Macron expected to make the second round.
Mr Zemmour’s outburst reminded some of former president Nicolas Sarkozy, who famously told a man who refused to shake his hand casse-toi, pauv con or “get out of here, a---hole”, during a visit to a farmers’ exhibition in 2008.