The European Parliament has decided to lift the parliamentary immunity of France’s extreme right National Front leader Marine Le Pen, accused of making offensive statements comparing Muslim prayers in Paris streets to the occupation of the French capital by Nazi troops.

This followed a request from the prosecutor in the southern French city of Lyon in a case of inciting racial hatred.

Ms. Le Pen reacted to the decision with her usual pugnacity saying it was an “attempt to intimidate” her. “I notice that immunity has been retained for Euro MPs who have their hands in the till, but not when it comes to political statements. There will be a trial and I hope I win. This is after all a case for the freedom of expression.”

The original case accusing her of inciting racist hatred was filed before the Lyon court by the Movement Against Racism and for Friendship between Peoples (MRAP). In 2010, Ms. Le Pen who is decidedly Islamophobic had compared Muslims praying in the streets to the Nazi occupation of Paris during the Second World War.

“It is an occupation of swathes of territory. Of course there are no tanks or soldiers but it weighs on the inhabitants,” she said.

A little earlier she had made similar utterances in a direct reference to the France’s Muslim community, the largest in Europe and the second most-practised religion in the country, saying: “Very clearly, like in 1940, there are those who believe that in the France of 2010 they can behave like an army of occupation in a conquered country.”

Euro-deputies on Tuesday agreed to lift her immunity on the advice of its justice commission which had so recommended on June 19.

Blistering communiqué

The National Front issued a blistering communiqué criticising this decision as one “born of the oligarchy’s fear of the rising popularity of a patriotic movement that speaks loud and clear, proposing real solutions to the problems of the French people”.

The National Front is anti-immigration, anti-Islamic and anti-Jewish. It advocates France’s exit from the Euro and the European Union (EU) and the expulsion of foreigners with job reservations for French citizens only and the stopping of welfare payments to immigrant workers.

Polls indicate that the National Front has made huge electoral gains and in a recent by-election in France it beat the Socialist Party to come second with 46 per cent of the vote.

The party is expected to do extremely well in European elections scheduled next year.

More In: World | International | News