Three Femen activists have disrupted Marine Le Pen's planned May Day speech in Paris, with slogans like "Heil Le Pen" and "Stop Fascism" painted on their bare chests. Le Pen's father played an uninvited cameo role too.
A Marine Le Pen speech designed as an attack on her political rivals in France was hijacked both by feminist activists and by Le Pen's 86-year-old father on Friday.
Three Femen members, topless with slogans criticizing Le Pen's Front National (FN) party on their chests and backs, gained access to the balcony from which the FN leader was speaking. They unfurled two large banners reading "Heil Le Pen" and stood side-by-side carrying out a Nazi salute.
Perhaps as a symbol of Le Pen 'modernizing' the FN, party faithful laid a wreath at Joan of Arc's statue
"Lots of surprises on this May 1," a visibly uneasy Le Pen said. "It's quite a paradox when you call yourself a feminist and try to disturb a tribute to Joan of Arc."
The FN has adopted the 15th-century French heroine as a symbol of nationalism, supporters earlier laid a wreath at Joan of Arc's commemorative statue in the capital.
After about 10 minutes, four Front National security men seized the protesting women, who were later arrested. The Femen group commented on the issue on Twitter, claiming that "Nazi henchmen of [Front National] have violently stopped FEMEN."
"They will be forced to get dressed," Le Pen said.
Jean-Marie also crashes daughter's stage
In a second interruption catching the FN leader off guard, her father, party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, unexpectedly took the stage ahead of his daughter's address. Le Pen senior is currently facing a party disciplinary procedure over repeated controversial comments about World War Two, especially in an interview with an extreme-right weekly publication Rivarol.
Marine Le Pen has been trying to somewhat soften the tone of France's extreme-right party, seeking to portray the group more on a platform opposing immigration and EU membership, rather than overt race politics.
As Reuters reporter Sophie Louet described the scene, Le Pen "smiled crisply" as her father walked past, then began her speech without waiting for him to leave the stage. Le Pen senior, for his part, did not stick around for his daughter's keynote speech. Since Marine took charge of the party in 2011, prior to their family feud, her father had still taken a place on the podium with her.
Once finally back onto script, Le Pen focused her address on criticism of President Francois Hollande's Socialists, and the conservative UMP party again led by Hollande's predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy.
"They have allowed mass immigration to install itself in France. They have unpinned the Islamic fundamentalist grenade," Le Pen said. "We were right on everything."
Polls in France currently suggest that Le Pen has a chance of reaching the runoff round in 2017's presidential elections, owing to the tumbling popularity and approval ratings of the ruling center-left Socialists. If a 2002 precedent with Jean-Marie Le Pen is any indication, reaching the runoff round would be followed by a massive defeat to the mainstream challenger.
msh/jil (AFP, Reuters)