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Panel votes to lift legal immunity for French MEP Marine Le Pen

  |   June 4, 2013 at 12:10 AM
BRUSSELS, June 4 (UPI) -- French right-wing leader Marine Le Pen is facing the loss of her European Parliament immunity to prosecution under hate speech laws, an MEP confirmed.

Swedish Member of European Parliament Cecilia Wikstrom confirmed to broadcaster France 24 Saturday the EP's Legal Affairs Committee last week voted secretly to strip Le Pen of immunity from prosecution in France as an elected MEP.

French authorities have been seeking to try the leader of the far-right National Front party for 2010 comments she made comparing Muslim immigrants praying in the streets to the World War II Nazi occupation of France.

Her immunity as an MEP have frustrated those efforts but the way for a case to be brought against her could be cleared with the move, which is subject to a plenary European Parliament vote this month in Strasbourg, France.

Wikstrom, a member of the Legal Affairs Committee, told France 24 the vote to remove Le Pen's immunity was nearly unanimous.

"There was only one 'no' vote and the rest were in favor of lifting her immunity so that the French authorities can investigate this case," she said, adding that despite the move, Le Pen's standing as an MEP won't otherwise be affected.

"She will be fully entitled to continue her political duties in the European Parliament," the Swedish lawmaker said. "I believe the French authorities got exactly what they wanted. They wanted us to lift her immunity."

The case dates to Dec. 10, 2010, when Le Pen, as a presidential candidate during a party meeting in Lyon, denounced Muslim street praying.

"For those who want to talk a lot about World War II, if it's about occupation, then we could also talk about (Muslim prayers in the streets)," she said. "There may not be any tanks or soldiers, but it is nevertheless an occupation."

The comments sparked a political furor in a country that has an estimated 6 million -- just less than 10 percent of the total population -- Muslim immigrants from former colonial territories.

The National Front, founded by Le Pen's father Jean-Marie Le Pen, garnered a record 18 percent showing in the first round of last year's presidential election.

In interview published Sunday in Le Parisien, Le Pen blasted French President Francois Hollande as a "puppet" of the European Commission as Brussels seeks to implement labor market and pension reforms in France to reach deficit reduction targets.

Hollande last week denied he lets Brussels "dictate what we have to do," but Le Pen scoffed at the notion.

"I do not believe it," she said. "He wants to suggest to the French that it is he who decides. However, it is quite the opposite. The European Commission takes its gloves off with us because they see us as lackeys. We are here to obey without question.

"Hollande is trying to (shift) because he understands that public opinion is now very Eurosceptic, and at the rate things are going, the National Front will finish first in the European elections of May 2014."

Hollande, she asserted, "is a puppet president, as was (Nicolas) Sarkozy. Neither (Francois) Mitterrand nor (Charles) de Gaulle would have ever considered complying with the dictates of a supranational body."

The right-wing leader predicted Sarkozy's center-right UMP party and Hollande's Socialist Party "will pay at the polls."

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