France's Le Pen calls for end to public education for illegal immigrants
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The French far-right leader Marine Le Pen proposed Thursday that children of illegal immigrants be refused places in public school as part of tough program to restrict state services.
"I've got nothing against foreigners, but I say to them: 'If you come to our country, don't expect that you will be taken care of, treated (by the health care system) and that your children will be educated for free,'" Le Pen said.
"That's finished now, it's the end of playtime," she said at a conference organised by a polling group in Paris.
Le Pen, the leader of the National Front, is expected to finish second in next year's presidential election, according to polls, but she is hoping for new momentum after the victory of Donald Trump in the United States.
Speaking to the Agence France-Presse afterward, she clarified that she wanted to block education only for immigrants who are in the country illegally, not for all foreigners. But she said that any foreigner using the public education system without paying taxes in France should have to contribute.
"We're going to reserve our efforts and our national solidarity for the most humble, the most modest and the most poor among us," Le Pen said at the conference.
The National Front sees itself as part of a global revolt against immigration, established political parties and globalisation epitomised by Trump's victory last month. It regularly criticises the use of France's indebted social security system for foreigners, arguing that French people should get priority.
Le Pen falsely said on Thursday that anyone over the age of 65 could arrive in France and start receiving retiree social security payments.
Polls show that Le Pen would receive enough votes to qualify for the second round of May's election, where she is expected to face the right-wing Republicans' candidate, Francois Fillon. It is expected that Fillon would win against Le Pen.
Few observers expect Le Pen to take power, but it has been an unpredictable year in politics, and France's struggling economy and the issue of immigration are top concerns with voters.
Le Pen wants to withdraw France from the eurozone and has called for a referendum on France's membership in the European Union.
Fillon has also taken a tough line on immigration, promising to reduce immigration to a "strict minimum" and calling on newcomers to adapt to French culture. He has rejected the idea of "multiculturalism" and insists that France must defend its traditions, language and identity.