Thousands march in France in pre-election protest against far right ahead of snap polls.

France was the scene of massive demonstrations last Saturday organised by trade unions and left-wing parties to protest against the rise of the far-right, which opinion polls suggest is on the verge of taking power. Police reportedly estimated the number of demonstrators at 250,000 nationwide, with 75,000 concentrated in Paris.

Forty days before the start of the Paris Olympics, supposedly apolitical and with a message of unity, they were drawn into the bitter campaign for France's snap parliamentary elections, risking further embarrassment for the organisers. 

Police estimated the number of demonstrators nationwide at 250,000, with 75,000 in Paris, a spokesman for the police prefecture said, noting that four arrests had been made by just before 18:00 local time. However, the police spokesman stressed that there had been little disturbance along the route in the capital, between Place de la République and Place de la Nation, with occasional drizzle.

Preparations for the Games, which run from 26 July to 11 August, have been overshadowed by the country's political turmoil after French President Emmanuel Macron stunned the country by calling snap elections last Sunday.

Centrist President Emmanuel Macron shocked France by bringing forward legislative elections originally scheduled for 2027 to 30 June and 7 July, barely an hour after the far-right's victory in the European elections on 9 June.

Although the call for snap elections on 30 June and 7 July has thrown the host country into uncertainty, International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach has played down the impact of the elections on the quadrennial sporting event.

Bach assured last Friday that Paris is "ready" to host the Olympic Games and insisted that the fact that France is holding parliamentary elections just before the Games was not a cause for concern "Forty-two days before the opening ceremony [on 26 July], we can say with great confidence: Paris 2024 is ready," said the IOC President, returning from a visit to the French capital.

Bach highlighted "the enthusiasm that can be felt throughout the city", "starting at the airports", with banners announcing the Games, "spectacular venues" and the Olympic rings hanging from the Eiffel Tower for days on end. 

"No, we are not worried, and with good reason: on Monday I saw with my own eyes (...) a total union. Both the government and the opposition expressed their desire and even their determination to see France at its best during the Olympic Games," assured the IOC president.

"I don't think the voters want an Olympic Games that looks bad," Emmanuel Macron told reporters on the sidelines of a G7 meeting in Italy on Thursday evening. "The French are worried about the image of France, about its ability to welcome the world," the 46-year-old leader added.

Indeed, Macron suggested that France's role as host of the world's biggest sporting event next month would encourage voters to back his embattled ruling centrist party over "people who are not prepared". 

Ahead of the legislative elections on 30 June and 7 July, polls since then have predicted another victory for the RN, which would win more than 30% of the vote in the second round, with the new Popular Front formed by left-wing parties coming in second.

"I have full confidence in the state services for the organisation of the 2024 Olympic Games," wrote Jordan Bardella, the RN's candidate for prime minister, on X on Friday.  "If we win the general election, I will not change the arrangements that have been in place for several months. This event must be a great success for the nation," he added.

Just as the Paris 2024 organising committee hoped to build excitement ahead of the opening ceremony on 26 July, the French have instead been gripped by the spectacle of their politicians' manoeuvring this week. 

"The interference of politics in the organisation of the Games is not good," Valérie Pécresse, head of the Paris region, told reporters on Thursday.  Within the organising committee, many workers were stunned by Macron's decision to call elections so close to the start of an event that has been seven years in the making.

"We had prepared for many possible scenarios, but I don't think this was even on the list," one of them told AFP on condition of anonymity.  "The most important thing is that there are no riots or clashes," added a source close to the French security forces, also on condition of anonymity.

Sebastian Coe, chief organiser of the London 2012 Olympics, expressed sympathy for his Paris 2024 counterpart Tony Estanguet.  "I'm not sure I would have wanted a general election three weeks before the start of London, but that's what's happening and they'll get through it," Coe, the head of world athletics, told an audience at the British Embassy in Paris on Wednesday. 

The elections on 30 June and 7 July could lead to further political instability if no group wins a clear majority, or a seismic shift if the National Rally emerges as the largest party nationally and enters government. 

Others worry about the prospect of France having its first far-right government since the Second World War, just as it hosts an event designed to promote harmony, world peace and friendship across borders. 

"On the occasion of these Games, France has a message to send to the world: the spirit of openness, universalism, respect for diversity," Sports Minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra told reporters on Thursday.