Le Pen battles on with anti-immigrant tirades

19th April 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, April 19, 2007 (AFP) - French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, standing in his fifth and probably final presidential election, is a former paratrooper who sees immigration as the source of France's ills.

PARIS, April 19, 2007 (AFP) - French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, standing in his fifth and probably final presidential election, is a former paratrooper who sees immigration as the source of France's ills.

The 78-year-old National Front leader became a force to be reckoned with in French politics when he qualified for the runoff vote in the 2002 election against Jacques Chirac, beating Socialist Lionel Jospin.

A former Foreign Legionnaire who served as an intelligence officer in Algeria and as a paratrooper in Indochina, Le Pen has been the champion of the far right for 35 years, calling for an end to immigration and a halt to European integration.

In this campaign he has sought to soften his image as a xenophobe by featuring a woman of African origin on his posters, meeting with black-rapper-from-the-suburbs Rost and visiting a Chinese World War I cemetery.

A gifted orator, Le Pen rails against the establishment parties of the left and right, accusing them of leading the country to the brink of disaster.

But his signature issue is immigration.

His election platform calls for cutting off social benefits to foreigners and deporting illegal immigrants, a stance that he has defended for decades.

Last weekend he repeated his insinuation that the frontrunning presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy -- a quarter-Jewish son of a Hungarian immigrant -- was not sufficiently French to become president.

Born in the port village of La Trinite sur Mer in the northwestern Britanny region, Le Pen is the son of a seamstress and a fisherman. As a teenager, he became a ward of the state when he was orphaned after his father died when his boat hit a mine. 

At age 27, he was first elected to parliament and went on to form the National Front 16 years later in 1972.  He ran for the presidency for the first time two years later.

He has been accused of promoting xenophobia and anti-Semitism with his shock statements.

In 1987, he described Nazi gas chambers as a "detail" of history and about the same time referred to AIDS as "a kind of leprosy."

In February, he dismissed the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States as an "incident," saying the death toll of 3,000 was equal to the number of people killed in Iraq in a month.

Le Pen however maintains that his views, once dismissed as extremist, are now part of mainstream politics.

He claims that Sarkozy, who has floated the idea of a ministry for immigration and national identity and has criticised Muslims in France who "slaughter sheep in the bathtub," is copying his ideas.

Le Pen was treated for prostate cancer in 2002 and underwent hip surgery in February 2005. While he has said he has no plans to retire, there has been speculation that his failing health may soon push him out of political life.

Opinion polls have consistently been putting Le Pen in fourth place behind Sarkozy, the Socialist Party's Segolene Royal, and the centrist Francois Bayrou.

But after the 2002 shock in which he broke through to the second round, few are willing to write him out of the picture -- especially as French polls are notorious for underestimating his support.


Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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