France: Head of ultra-right may face trial for racism
Marine Le Pen, the head of the ultra-right National Front party in France, now risks the possibility of being brought to trial in short order. She could be asked to answer to charges of racism for her previous anti-Muslim statements.
BBC News reports that the legal affairs committee of the European Parliament, of which Le Pen is a member, deprived her of her parliamentary immunity in a secret vote last week, reportedly by an "overwhelming majority". The MEP now awaits a plenary vote, but that is reportedly "just a formality at this point".
French authorities started to prosecute Le Pen a few years ago after she spoke to a party assembly in Lyons and compared the prayers of Muslims in the streets to the Nazi occupation of France during WWII. Protests by the ultra-right ultimately led to Paris banning prayer on public streets.
"Naturally there are no tanks here, there are no soldiers, but it is an occupation nevertheless, one which is heavily oppressing local residents. It is an occupation of part of our territory in order to assert a religious commandment. This is an occupation," she declared at the time.
Le Pen achieved an historical record for her party of 18 % support - 6.4 million votes - during the first round of last year's presidential elections. Her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, fought through to the second round of the presidential elections in 2002, when not quite 17 % of the vote was enough for him to gain on Socialist candidate Lionel Jospin. In the end, however, Le Pen lost to Jacques Chirac.
According to some estimates, as many as six million Muslims live in France, comprising roughly one-tenth of its population. Most come from some of the former French colonies in North Africa. Their integration is running into problems, such as the fact that France has become the first country in the European Union to ban the wearing of Muslim headscarves by women in public.
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