Claiming that Islamic prayers are held in the streets in 10-15 locations in France, Marine Le Pen told a meeting of about 300 party faithful in Lyon that “… neighbourhoods where religious law applies, that’s an occupation”.
The party’s Lyon federation is considered “radical” and Le Pen’s rival for the party leadership, Bruno Gollnisch, teaches at a university in the city.
“Fifteen years ago there were no [Islamic] veils, then there were more and more veils,” she told her audience. “And then there were prayers on the public thoroughfare.”
In a thinly disguised reference to accusations of anti-Semitism against her father, she declared, “For those who like to speak about the Second World War, here we can talk about occupation […] Certainly there are no tanks, there are no soldiers, but it weighs heavily on local people.”
Earlier in the meeting, Le Pen had compared the war to the economic crisis, which the Front blames on globalisation and immigration, Le Monde reports.
The party’s congress in January will choose a new leader to succeed Jean-Marie Le Pen, who retires at the age of 82. With her father’s backing, Marine is expected to win and go on to contest the 2012 presidential election.
A televised debate with former government minister Rachida Dati on Thursday attracted 3.8 million viewers, more than Prime Minister François Fillon or Socialist leader Martine Aubry in the same slot earlier this year. Le Pen’s supporters brag that “thousands” of people applied to join the party after the broadcast.
Socialist Party national secretary Patrick Menucci called Le Pen’s comments “shameful” on Saturday, saying that if Muslims pray in the streets it is because prayer rooms are too small.
“This kind of remarks are unacceptable,” Education Minister Luc Chatel declared.