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French politician may face racism charges

EU Parliament committee votes to remove immunity from far-right leader Marine Le Pen over remarks made against Muslims.

Last Modified: 02 Jun 2013 05:26
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Marine Le Pen won 18 percent of the vote in the first round of France's presidential elections last year [AP]

Marine Le Pen, the head of France's far-right National Front party, could face charges over racist remarks aimed at the Muslim community in France.

A European Parliament committee voted to remove Le Pen's immunity from prosecution earlier this week, a parliament spokesman said on Saturday, as France seeks to prosecute her over remarks likening Islamic prayers to the Nazi occupation.

The closed-door vote by the judicial affairs committee was a simple recommendation to parliament, which will make a definitive decision on June 11, according to spokesman Jaume Duch.

If ratified, authorities in France can pursue allegations of racism against the far-right leader. A source told AFP news agency that the committee vote was "very unfavourable" toward Le Pen.

In November, French authorities asked the European Parliament to lift Le Pen's immunity as a politician so that she could be prosecuted for remarks made in a speech to supporters in December 2010.

In the speech, Le Pen denounced Muslim praying out on the streets.

"For those who like to talk about World War II, to talk about occupation, we could talk about, for once, the occupation of our territory," said Le Pen.

"There are no armoured vehicles, no soldiers, but it is an occupation all the same and it weighs on people."

'Speaking the truth'

Prosecutors in Lyon, where the speech took place, opened an investigation into the remarks for "inciting racial hatred" in January 2011 following a complaint from an anti-racism group.

As with many national parliaments, members of the European Parliament are immune from criminal and civil liability for opinions expressed as part of their duties, unless the chamber votes to lift the immunity.

Florian Philippot, the party's vice president, said that he would wait for the full parliament's vote, adding that it would be unheard of if Le Pen lost her immunity "for having spoken the truth about the [Muslim] prayers in the streets which still take place.... the French do not like when people hide the truth from them”.

Le Pen took over the National Front from her father, party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has several convictions for racism and anti-Semitism.

Marine Le Pen, who was first elected to the European Parliament in 2004, won 18 percent of the vote in the first round of France's presidential election in April 2012. It was the party's highest-ever result.

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