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France's Le Pen meets Putin in Moscow

Front National leader Marine Le Pen has met with Vladimir Putin and Russian lawmakers in Moscow. Russia has been cozying up to right-wing candidates and meddling in European and US elections.

French right-wing leader and presidential candidate Marine Le Pen in Moscow on Friday called for greater cooperation against terrorism and better relations with Russia.

"I am in favor of developing relations with Russia in the context of the long history that links our two countries," Le Pen said at a meeting with Russia's parliamentary speaker, Vyacheslav Volodin.

Referring to Russia's role in Syria and France's fight against Islamic extremists, she called on the two countries to work together to fight "terrorism." She also urged an end to European Union sanctions on Russia over the crisis in the Ukraine.

The Front National leader was visiting Moscow at the invitation of Leonid Slutsky, head of the Duma's foreign affairs committee. Le Pen has visited Russia several times.

'We don't want to influence current events'

She was then whisked off to the Kremlin to meet President Vladimir Putin, whom she has said she admires.

"We by no means want to influence the current events, but we reserve the right to communicate with all representatives of all political forces of the country, as do our partners in Europe and the United States for example," Interfax news agency quoted Putin as telling Le Pen.

Russia has been accused of meddling in European elections, including by promoting anti-EU populist movements and conducting disinformation campaigns. 

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The Front National in 2014 received a controversial 9 million euros ($9.7 million) loan from a Russian bank that later went bankrupt. Putin said he did not discuss financing with Le Pen.

But he noted the Front National represents "quite a fast-developing spectrum of European political forces," in reference to a surge in anti-EU populist movements.

Neck-and-neck presidential race

Le Pen's visit comes weeks before the first round of French presidential elections on April 23, although the right-wing leader said her visit had nothing to do with attracting votes.  

Polls suggest Le Pen is running neck-and-neck with independent centrist Emmanuel Macron at about 25 percent. Scandal-plagued conservative candidate Francois Fillon is at 19 percent.

An Opionway poll released on Friday suggested in a second round May vote both Fillon and Macron would defeat Le Pen. Macron would defeat Le Pen 63 percent to 37 in the second round, while Fillon would get 57 percent against 43 percent in the May runoff.

cw/kms (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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