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Tuesday, 23 April, 2002, 09:54 GMT 10:54 UK
Profile: Jean-Marie Le Pen
Le Pen
Immigration is the burning issue for Mr Le Pen
Even before his stunning breakthrough in the French presidential poll, Jean-Marie Le Pen was insisting that reports of his political demise had been grossly exaggerated.


Massive immigration has only just begun. It is the biggest problem facing France, Europe and probably the world. We risk being submerged

Jean-Marie Le Pen
Mr Le Pen is not expected to win the run-off against incumbent Jacques Chirac, but in many respects his battle is already won - he has put the far right at the heart of mainstream politics in this his fourth challenge for the presidency.

Mr Le Pen insists his message is as relevant today as it was when he first founded the National Front (FN) party 30 years ago.

The violence in the suburbs goes from bad to worse, he says, the European superstate has reduced the French presidency to a kind of regional governorship, and small businesses are being driven to the wall.

With about 17% in the polls, he has exceeded his 1995 exploit, when 4.5 million people voted for him in the first round.

Veteran politician

Mr Le Pen was born in 1928 in the town of La Trinite-sur-Mer in Brittany.

Bruno Megret
Bruno Megret - author of the "great treachery" against Le Pen

As the adulatory comic-strip biography available at the party headquarters explains, he joined the Foreign Legion in 1954, seeing action in Indochina and Algeria.

His political career began in 1956, when he became a deputy for the shopkeepers' party of Pierre Poujade.

In 1965 he helped run the election campaign of far-right candidate Jean-Louis Tixier-Vignancour, and in 1972 he set up the FN.

With his dire warnings of the threat to French life from North African immigration, he pushed his share of the presidential vote up from 0.74% in 1974 to 14% in 1988 and 15% in 1995.

'The great treachery'

In the meantime, the parliamentary fortunes of the FN rose and fell.

Le Pen's policies
Abolition of European Commission and Maastricht treaty
Revival of the franc, alongside euro
Re-creation of trade barriers with EU countries
Separation of French families' funds from those of foreigners
Ban on building of mosques in France
Reintroduction of the death penalty

It won 35 seats in 1986 after the late President Francois Mitterrand changed the voting system in order to discomfit the mainstream right, but today it has only one.

And in 1998 came the "great treachery".

His heir-apparent - backroom technocrat Bruno Megret - launched a bid for power.

He was swiftly ousted, but the party has never fully recovered from the split. Any mention of the scheming arch-traitor brings the party leader out in a paroxysm of contempt.

Mr Le Pen is associated in the minds of his opponents with bigotry, bullying and belligerence.

In 1987 he described the holocaust as a "detail of history", and five years ago he fell foul of the law for an election punch-up with a Socialist rival.

That almost cost him his seat in the European Parliament.

Main theme

Le Pen (far left) arrives in Paris to present the 500 endorsements needed to stand in Frances presidential election.
This was Le Pen's fourth challenge for the presidency
In this election he has campaigned on familiar themes: he wants 200,000 new prison places, the abolition of inheritance tax so that small businesses can pass from father to son, and a renegotiation of European treaties.

But immigration is still the key.

"Massive immigration has only just begun. It is the biggest problem facing France, Europe and probably the world. We risk being submerged," he said in a newspaper interview.

That distinctive message clearly got through.


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15 Mar 02 | Europe
26 Jan 01 | Europe
24 Jan 99 | Europe
15 Dec 98 | Europe
08 Mar 02 | Country profiles
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