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France's Marine Le Pen faces trial for comment on Muslims

François Monier, AFP |French far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen on September 17, 2015

Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right National Front (FN) party, will go on trial in October for comparing Muslim prayers in the street to the Nazi occupation, party officials and the Lyon prosecutor’s office said on Tuesday.

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Le Pen made the inflammatory comments in 2010 while campaigning to take over the FN’s leadership from her father, party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen.

“I’m sorry, but for those who really like to talk about World War II, if we’re talking about an occupation, we could talk about the [street prayers], because that is clearly an occupation of territory,” she told an FN rally in the eastern city of Lyon.

“It is an occupation of sections of the territory, of neighborhoods in which religious law applies – it is an occupation. There are no tanks, there are no soldiers, but it is an occupation nevertheless, and it weighs on people,” she added.

An initial investigation was launched into Le Pen’s comments but it was closed in 2011. The case was reopened in 2012 following a legal complaint by a rights group.

Le Pen was put under formal investigation in July 2014 after her immunity as a member of the European Parliament was lifted following a vote requested by French authorities.

She will face trial on October 20 on charges of “inciting discrimination over people’s religious beliefs”, the Lyon prosecutor’s office said.

Le Pen described the trial as a “scandal”.

“It is a scandal that a political leader can be sued for expressing her beliefs,” she told Reuters. “Those who denounce the illegal behaviour of fundamentalists are more likely to be sued than the fundamentalists who behave illegally.”

Le Pen, who polls say is likely to win a regional election in northern France in December, has widened the FN’s appeal since she took its helm in 2011 by expelling extremists and cracking down on anti-Semitism.

But it is unclear whether the trial, which will take place less than two months before the election in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region, could harm Le Pen’s chances of winning.

Her opinion poll ratings have not suffered from a row with her father Jean-Marie, whom she expelled from the party in August for making comments dismissive of the Holocaust.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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