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Le Pen to face trial over anti-Muslim comments

September 22, 2015

The leader of France's National Front party is to stand trial next month on charges of inciting racial hatred. During an election campaign in 2010, Marine Le Pen compared Muslim street prayers to the Nazi occupation.

Frankreich Partei Front National Marine Le Pen
Image: Getty Images/AFP/D. Charlet

Le Pen will stand in court on October 20 on charges of "incitement to discrimination over people's religious beliefs," the prosecutor's office in Lyon said in a statement on Tuesday.

"Yes of course. I wouldn't miss such an occasion," Le Pen told journalists when asked whether she intended to attend the trial.

The charges against the National Front (FN) leader date back to 2010, when she was campaigning in Lyon to take over the party's leadership from her father. She complained that there were "10 to 15" places in France where Muslims worshipped on the streets when the mosques were full.

"I'm sorry, but for those who like talking a lot about World War II, if it comes to talking about the occupation, we can talk about it, because that [Muslims praying on the street] is the occupation of territory," Le Pen is reported to have said. "Sure, there are no armored vehicles, no soldiers, but it is an occupation nonetheless and it weighs on residents."

Le Pen's anti-immigrant stance

The leader was investigated for inciting racial hatred soon after, but the probe was closed with no result. A complaint by another association in 2012 led to a judicial inquiry. Le Pen was charged in 2014 after her immunity as a Member of European Parliament was lifted.

Le Pen took over the National Front in 2011, and has tried to portray herself as a modernizer of the far-right party. The FN remains staunchly anti-EU and anti-immigration, with its leader comparing the influx of migrants to "barbarian invasions" of the fourth century. Speaking to foreign journalists, Le Pen said of the refugees that "we should warm them up, feed them and then send them back where they came from."

The party is becoming popular in France, but its image has suffered after Le Pen and her father had a fallout, leading to his expulsion from the party. Jean-Marie Le Pen - the party's founder and still an MEP - said he thought Nazi gas chambers were merely a "detail" of history and that France should join hands with Russia to save the "white world."

The FN is also being investigated for fraud in its campaign financing.

mg/msh (AFP, Reuters)