French right-wing leader calls trial over Muslim remark ‘persecution’

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French National Front political party leader Marine Le Pen speaks to journalists as she leaves the courthouse in Lyon, France, October 20, 2015. France's far-right National Front party leader Marine Le Pen said she was the victim of "judicial persecution" as she went on trial on Tuesday for comparing Muslim street prayers to wartime Nazi occupation.    REUTERS/Emmanuel Foudrot

French National Front political party leader Marine Le Pen speaks to journalists as she leaves the courthouse in Lyon, France, October 20, 2015. France's far-right National Front party leader Marine Le Pen said she was the victim of "judicial persecution" as she went on trial on Tuesday for comparing Muslim street prayers to wartime Nazi occupation. REUTERS/Emmanuel Foudrot

LYON, France (Reuters) – France’s far-right National Front party leader Marine Le Pen said the government was using the judiciary to persecute her as she went on trial on Tuesday for comparing Muslim street prayers to Nazi occupation.

Le Pen, who polls say is likely to win a regional election in December, has tried to broaden the party’s appeal since she took over in 2011 from her father and party founder Jean-Marie.

He was convicted several times of inciting racial hatred and his daughter has made efforts to distance herself from him.

But in a meeting in 2010, Le Pen – whose party thrives on concerns over immigration and radical Islam – criticized Muslims praying in the streets when mosques are full.


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“We are just a month ahead of the regional elections and this case is five years old. Couldn’t it wait another month?” she said to reporters as she arrived at the tribunal.

At a rally in 2010, she had said: “I’m sorry, but for those who really like to talk about World War Two, if we’re talking about occupation, we could talk about that (street prayers), because that is clearly an occupation of the territory.”

“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 anyhow, and it weighs on people,” she said.

She was charged with “incitement to discrimination over people’s religious beliefs” and on Tuesday, she said street prayers were illegal and “sought to impose religious law” in France but did not repeat the comparison with Nazi Occupation.

The case has had many twists and turns and had initially been put aside by judges in December but anti-racism groups filed a new complaint.

It was unclear when a ruling would be made.