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Calais hit by anti-migrant protest

Hundreds of extreme-right activists have demonstrated to "save" Calais from homeless migrants inundating the French port city in hopes of crossing the Channel to Britain.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, a few dozen far-left activists sought to disrupt the protest but were quickly stopped by police, who were out in large numbers amid rising tensions in Calais in recent weeks.

The demonstration put new pressure on Calais as the city grapples with a growing influx of migrants and mounting tensions among the desperate travellers, city officials and the port.

The city's dilemma over how to handle the migrants echoes challenges faced by authorities around Europe, as nationalist, anti-immigrant movements are enjoying rising support amid economic woes.

Tensions have simmered for years in Calais, where migrants who cross continents and seas arrive in hopes of sneaking onto trucks or ferries to Britain.

The migrants, many of whom speak English, view Britain as a promised land with generous benefits for refugees - something officials say is a "myth" that must be broken.

There are an estimated 1,300 migrants in Calais, mostly from the Horn of Africa, Sudan and Afghanistan.

Mayor Natacha Bouchart complains that migrants are draining city coffers, making life unpleasant for Calais residents and hurting the city's image.

Last week, she threatened to close the port - an illegal act - in a bid to pressure Britain to help shoulder the burden, or at least visit the city to discuss the issue.

The recently-formed collective "Save Calais" rallied other extreme-rightists to the demonstration, including the head of a group banned by the Interior Ministry last year for its extremist views.

"I have the right not to live in Africa, not to eat halal," said protester Thomas Joly, of the Party of France, calling for all migrants to be expelled. "To defend our country is not a crime. It's a duty."

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