France asks European Parliament to lift Le Pen immunity
PARIS - Agence France-Presse
President of French far-right party Front national (FN), Marine Le Pen gestures as she gives a press conference on the theme "Produce and buy French products", on November 6, 2012, at the party headquarters in Nanterre, outside Paris. AFP PHOTO / FRANCOIS GUILLOT
French authorities have asked the European Parliament to lift the immunity of far-right leader Marine Le Pen so she can be prosecuted for comparing Islamic prayers to the Nazi occupation, officials said Monday.
Justice ministry spokesman Pierre Rance told AFP the request was sent to European Parliament President Martin Schulz late last month.
A source close to the matter said the request was related to an ongoing judicial probe into remarks made by Le Pen in a speech to supporters of her Front National party in December 2010.
Denouncing the holding of Islamic prayers on the streets of France -- where a dearth of mosques has forced many to pray outside -- Le Pen said: "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. 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." Prosecutors in Lyon, where the speech took place, opened an investigation into the remarks for "inciting racial hatred" in January 2011 following a complaint from an anti-racism group.
Like with many national parliaments, members of the European Parliament enjoy immunity from criminal and civil liability for opinions expressed as part of their duties, unless the chamber votes to lift the immunity.
Le Pen took over the Front National from her father, party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has several convictions for racism and anti-Semitism.
Marine Le Pen, who was first elected to the European Parliament in 2004, won 18 percent of the vote in the first round of France's presidential election in April, the party's highest-ever score.