French far-right sees boost from planned Islam debate

PARIS Fri Feb 18, 2011 6:45pm IST

Related Topics

PARIS (Reuters) - France's far-right National Front said on Friday that a planned national debate on Islam and secularism would boost its support and improve its chances in the presidential election next year.

Party leader Marine Le Pen, who took over last month from her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, mocked the planned debate as a new opinion poll showed she could score a strong 20 percent in the first round of the presidential vote.

President Nicolas Sarkozy's government wants the debate, due in April, to discuss whether France's five-million-strong Muslim minority supports the official separation of church and state.

Le Pen said it could end up backfiring on Sarkozy and his ally Jean-Francois Cope, the UMP party leader who announced on Wednesday that the debate would start in April.

"The last time (Sarkozy) used that, there was a debate about national identity and the National Front scored 15 percent in the regional elections," she told France Info radio.

"So keep it up, Mr Cope -- a little debate here, a little blah-blah about Islam and secularism there, and I think we'll end up winning 25 percent in the presidential election."

Critics said Sarkozy's government-sponsored debate on national identity in 2009-2010, which led to a ban on full face veils in public, turned into a public forum to air complaints about Muslims and make the minority feel stigmatised.

Defence Minister Alain Juppe, a senior Sarkozy ally, also warned about a debate. "We have to steer and master this debate, because it can get out of hand," he told the daily Le Figaro.

ANOTHER LE PEN SHOCK?

The Ifop poll published on Friday showed Le Pen could win 20 percent in the first round, which would put her in third place behind Sarkozy but in striking distance of Socialist Party leader Martine Aubry, the main opposition candidate.

Jean-Marie Le Pen shocked France by besting Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin in the first round in 2002. He went on to challenge President Jacques Chirac in the run-off but lost.

Le Pen said the Islam debate would "come up with solutions that are the opposite of what the French want.

"They will propose public financing of mosques, a change in the law separating church and state, a foundation to allow Muslims to finance mosques while not paying taxes ... I think this is exactly what the French don't want."

On Thursday, a government minister suggested changing the 1905 law on secularism to allow public financing of mosques, but government spokesman Francois Baroin promptly slapped that down.

"There is no bill on the government agenda to change the law," he said.

In her interview, Le Pen stressed her party's anti-immigrant populism by warning the current unrest in North Africa would create "a great wave of migrants" that would "submerge" France.

(Editing by Myra MacDonald)

FILED UNDER:
Comments (0)
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.

  • Most Popular
  • Most Shared

GAZA CRISIS

WORLD SHOWCASE

Ukraine Crisis

Ukraine Crisis

EU agrees first broad sanctions on Russia; Ukraine fighting kills dozens.  Full Article 

Taking on the Powerful

Taking on the Powerful

China says investigating powerful former security chief for graft.  Full Article 

Libyan Attack

Libyan Attack

Libyan militants overrun Benghazi special forces base as chaos deepens.  Full Article 

Reuters Analysis

Reuters Analysis

Putin may have passed point of no-return over Ukraine.  Full Article 

Afghanistan Violence

Afghanistan Violence

Karzai's cousin and Ghani ally killed in Afghan suicide attack.  Full Article 

Ferry Disaster

Ferry Disaster

S.Korea ferry boss's driver turns himself in.  Full Article 

Reuters India Mobile

Reuters India Mobile

Get the latest news on the go. Visit Reuters India on your mobile device.  Full Coverage