France's Le Pen under fire for Muslim 'occupation' claims
The daughter of French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen was under fire Sunday for comparing Muslims praying in the streets outside overcrowded mosques in France to the Nazi occupation.
Marine Le Pen said Friday at a rally of the anti-immigrant National Front that there were "ten to fifteen" places in France where Muslims worshipped in the streets outside mosques when these were full.
"For those who want to talk a lot about World War II, if it's about occupation, then we could also talk about it (Muslim prayers in the streets), because that is occupation of territory," she said at the gathering in Lyon.
"It is an occupation of sections of the territory, of districts in which religious laws apply. It's an occupation," she said at the rally that was part of her bid to take the party leadership when her father steps down in January.
"There are of course no tanks, there are no soldiers but it is nevertheless an occupation and it weighs heavily on local residents," the 42-year-old noted.
The comments sparked condemnation from politicians from President Nicolas Sarkozy's ruling UMP party and from the opposition Socialists and the Greens.
"This is the true face of the far right which has not changed in the slightest, and Marine Le Pen is just as dangerous as Jean-Marie Le Pen," Socialist Party spokesman Benoit Hamon said Saturday.
Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has several convictions for racism and anti-Semitism, shocked Europe in 2002 by coming in second in the French presidential elections.
The French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) said Saturday that Marine Le Pen's comments were "insulting towards the Muslims of France" and were an "incitement to hatred and violence against them."
On Sunday, an anti-racist group said it planned to file a civil lawsuit against her.
"Comparing Muslims to an army of occupation is humiliating. To be treated like invaders, like fascists, that is just not possible," said Mouloud Aounit, head of the Movement Against Racism and for Friendship between Peoples (MRAP).
Paris' Goutte d'Or district, where mosques are so full on Fridays that many believers end up praying on the streets outside, is one of the ares that Le Pen was referring to in her Lyon speech.
Police in June banned a "pork sausage and wine" street party planned by extremist groups to combat what they saw as the "Islamisation" of the neighbourhood.
The plan sparked outrage from politicians and anti-racism groups who said it was blatantly racist and could lead to violence on the streets.
That controversy came after a government-sponsored debate on national identity spotlighted anxieties about the integration of France's five to six million Muslims.
On Sunday locals in the Goutte d'Or district said they were well used to comments like Le Pen's.
"Most Muslims feel threatened. They won't leave us alone," said a grocery store worker who gave his name as Hakim.
"With the cold and the dirt, we'd love to have a clean hall to pray in but we don't have the choice," said Walid Ben, who works in a fabric shop in the area.
"I understand that it bothers people (if Muslims pray in the streets) but what solution is Marine Le Pen proposing?" he asked.
© 2010 AFP