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Europe

European parliament set to lift Le Pen immunity over racism case

media Front National leader Marine Le Pen speaks to the party's annual rally on May Day in Paris Reuters/Charles Platiau

The European parliament has confirmed reports that French far-right leader Marine Le Pen is likely to lose her immunity from prosecution. French prosecutors want to try her for hate speech against Muslims.

As a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) the Front National (FN) chief is protected from prosecution for comments she made in 2010.

But European Parliament spokesperson Jaume Duch on Saturday confirmed a BBC report that a parliamentary committee voted to withdraw the privilege.

The committee vote was "very unfavourable" toward Le Pen, a source said.

French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira asked the European parliament to waive Le Pen’s immunity after charges were brought against her for inciting racial hatred in 2010.

Following reports of Muslims praying in the streets due to a lack of mosques, she compared the situation to the German occupation of France in World War II.

"For those who like to talk about World War II, to talk about occupation, we could talk about, for once, the occupation of our territory,” she told supporters.

"This is an occupation of parts of our territory. ... There are no armoured vehicles, no soldiers, but it is an occupation all the same and it weighs on people."

The statement shocked the FN’s opponents all the more since some of the party’s founding members had collaborated with the Nazis and Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie, has several convictions for racism and anti-Semitism.

Prosecutors in Lyon, where the speech took place, opened an investigation into "inciting racial hatred" in January 2011 following a complaint from an Islamophobia watchdog.

MEPs enjoy immunity from criminal and civil liability for opinions expressed as part of
their duties, unless the chamber votes to lift the immunity, as is the case for members of most national parliaments.

FN vice-president Florian Philippot told the AFP wire service that it would be unheard of if Le Pen lost her immunity "for having spoken the truth about the prayers in the streets which still take place".

The decision to lift her immunity will need to be ratified by the full parliament, which is likely to happen.

This paves the way for prosecutors to pursue their case against her.

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