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France

European Parliament lifts National Front leader Marine Le Pen's immunity in defamation case

Days before the second round of French legislative elections, the European Parliament has lifted the far-right MEP Marine Le Pen's immunity from prosecution in a defamation case. She lost a presidential election in May.

The vote by a show of hands on Thursday in the European Parliament allows French prosecutors to continue a defamation action against Marine Le Pen, head of the far-right National Front (FN.) Le Pen could be summoned before investigating judges and even detained for questioning.

Le Pen has denied any wrongdoing and said she would answer any summons after Sunday's second-round legislative elections.

The parliament's vote came after the center-right mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, filed suit against Le Pen for accusing him of associating with militants in 2015.

Earlier this week, the European Parliament 's legal affairs committee recommended that Le Pen's parliamentary immunity be waived because she did not make her alleged statements about Estrosi in the course of her duties as an MEP. The committee also found there were no grounds to show that the request to remove her immunity had been made to cause her political damage.

Europäisches Parlament in Straßburg (Picture alliance/dpa/P. Seeger)

Members of the European Parliament are meeting in Strasbourg this week

Other losses

In March, Le Pen lost immunity in another case - this time over graphic images of executions by the Islamic State group that she showed via Twitter.

Le Pen also risks losing her immunity in a third case, over alleged misuse of European Union funds. That decision will be considered by a parliamentary committee next week.

Earlier this week, her father and FN party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen found himself in a similar position. On Wednesday, the European Parliament lifted his immunity, and that of a fellow party member, in response to a French investigation into alleged "public defamation" with a racist nature over remarks made in August 2009.

A plot to damage the party?

FN party member Gilles Lebreton said the parliamentary vote had been sped up to damage the FN ahead of the second round of France's legislative elections on Sunday. Le Pen has also denounced the proceedings against her as politically motivated.

The FN managed only 14 percent of the vote in the first round of the legislative elections last Sunday. Le Pen blamed her party's poor showing on the record low turnout of 49 percent.

While 120 far-right candidates are still in the running for Sunday's second round for the 577-seat assembly, only 10 are expected to win, with some commentators suggesting the party could only manage three or four. That would be well below the threshold of 15 seats needed for the FN to form a parliamentary group.

The latest polls from OpinionWay/ORPI on Thursday showed President Emmanuel Macron's La Republique en Marche! (LREM) on the way to winning between 440 and 470 seats in the assembly. The Republicans and allied centrist parties were forecast to win between 70 and 90 seats, followed by 15 for the Socialist Party of former President Francois Hollande. 

Watch video 02:08

France: Macron's party wins big in 1st round

jm/cmk (AFP, dpa)

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