Profile: far-right leader Le Pen battles on

26th March 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 25, 2007 (AFP) - French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, who is standing in his fifth and probably last campaign for the presidency, is a veteran politician who sees immigration as the source of France's ills.

PARIS, March 25, 2007 (AFP) - French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, who is standing in his fifth and probably last campaign for the presidency, is a veteran politician who sees immigration as the source of France's ills.

The head of the National Front 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.

Born in the Brittany village of La-Trinite-sur-Mer, Le Pen is the son of a seamstress and 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 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 right-wing rival Nicolas Sarkozy 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 lead to him leaving political life.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news, Presidential elections

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