French parliamentary session halted by lawmaker’s cry “Go back to Africa”

A right-wing French lawmaker has caused an uproar by shouting “Go back to Africa” ​​during comments by a black lawmaker in a parliamentary session broadcast to the public on Thursday.

Grégoire de Fournas, parliamentary representative of the National Rally (RN) party, interrupted Carlos Martens Bilongo, representative of the far-left party France Unbowed (LFI) during a session of the National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament.

Bilongo called on the French government to cooperate with EU counties, especially Italy and its newly elected far-right prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, to help several hundred African migrants rescued from the Mediterranean Sea.

De Fournas interrupted, shouting “go back to Africa”.

Chaos immediately ensued in the chamber, which led Yaël Braun-Pivet, president of the National Assembly, to temporarily suspend the session.

Bilongo and his party have called the chant a racist personal attack, although Fournas’ party has argued that the interjection was actually aimed at the migrants in question.

“Today, some people are again putting my skin color at the center of a debate. I was born in France and I am a French legislator and I did not think that I would be insulted today [like this] in the National Assembly,” Bilongo told reporters after the incident.

Mathilde Panot, leader of the far-left group France Unbowed in the National Assembly, has demanded that de Fournas face the harshest punishment for a French lawmaker: expulsion. “Racists like him have no place in our parliament,” Panot tweeted.

De Fournas said he was referring to migrants and tweeted that France Unbowed had “hijacked” his words in a “shameful manipulation”.

“My response is about the ship and the migrants, obviously not my colleague,” he tweeted.

NUPES Member of Parliament Carlos Martens Bilongo speaks to the reporter at the exit of questions to the government at the National Assembly in Paris, France on November 3, 2022.

According to French phonetic rules, there is little audible difference between the sentences, “I should go back to Africa” ​​​​​​​​and “They should go back to Africa”, as expressed by de Fournas.

Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right RN party group in the French lower house, expressed her support for de Fournas in a tweet.

“Grégoire de Fournas obviously talked about the migrants transported in boats by the NGOs that our colleague mentioned in his question to the government. The controversy created by our political opponents is crude and will not fool the French,” he wrote.

Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne told reporters after the session that “racism has no place in our democracy.”

Parliament will hold a meeting on Friday to decide on a punishment for de Fournas. The expulsion, the harshest punishment meted out to a lawmaker in parliament, was challenged only once during France’s Fifth Republic, to a communist deputy Maxime Gremetz for disrupting a parliamentary session in 2011, according to CNN affiliate BFMTV.

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