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France’s Le Pen insists Nazi death camps were only a ‘detail’

Published on 26/03/2009

Strasbourg -- French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen caused a storm in the EU parliament Wednesday by insisting that the Nazi death camps were a "detail of Second World War history."

Already at the centre of controversy over the possibility of the veteran MEP presiding over the chamber’s next inaugural session, Le Pen said he was the victim of "inflammatory accusations" by the parliamentary socialist group head, German Euro MP Martin Schulz, who had branded him a Holocaust denier.
"I just said that the gas chambers were a detail of Second World War history, which is clear," he told a sitting of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.

The far-right firebrand, who has several past convictions for racism and anti-Semitism, shocked Europe in 2002 by coming in second in the French presidential elections.

He gathered around 10 percent of votes in the last French presidential race in 2007.

Le Pen was fined 1.2 million francs (185,000 euros, 290,000 dollars) for making the initial remarks in a radio interview in 1987.

"That proved the state we find the freedom of speech in in Europe and France," he said, recalling the case.

Le Pen demanded an apology from Schulz.

On Tuesday the heads of the Socialist and Green groups in the EU parliament proposed a rule change to prevent Le Pen from presiding over the chamber as doyen.

"I am concerned by the fact that a Holocaust denier could preside over the opening session of the European Parliament," in July, the day after the European elections, Schulz said then, adding that the solution is "to change the rules."

Le Pen, who will celebrate his 81st birthday in June, has been a member of the European Parliament since 1984.

He will put himself up for election again at the top of the National Front list and, if he is elected, will be the doyen, by age, of the next parliament.

A parliamentary president will be chosen later as regular speaker of the chamber.

It is not the first time a French National Front MEP has caused a commotion over the doyen’s duties.

In July 1989, former film director Claude Autant-Lara became doyen and delivered a speech at the opening session to a chamber that was largely empty as a sign of protest.

A rule change that came after that event means that these days the doyen presides over the session but is not entitled to deliver a speech.