terça-feira, 21 de fevereiro de 2017

Marine Le Pen advances in poll as riots heighten security fears / Marine Le Pen's Front National headquarters raided by police

Marine Le Pen advances in poll as riots heighten security fears
Pollsters have far-right leader winning first round of election but losing in the runoff.


PARIS — French far-right leader Marine Le Pen is gaining ground over her rivals for the French presidency, according to a poll Monday that underscored growing security concerns amid riots over a police brutality case.

According to OpinionWay’s rolling monthly poll, the National Front party president advanced by one percentage point to 27 percent support ahead of the first round of a presidential election in April. Support for former economy minister Emmanuel Macron and ex-prime minister François Fillon, the conservative frontrunner, were unchanged at 20 percent each.

Le Pen, whose party headquarters was raided by magistrates Monday as part of an investigation into misuse of funds at the European Parliament, is still shown losing the election’s final round by a significant margin. In Monday’s poll, Macron was shown defeating her by 58 percent to 42 percent in the May runoff.

However, Macron’s final-round advance over Le Pen has halved over the past two weeks after he became embroiled in a controversy about France’s colonial history, and as the country braced for further rioting linked to the police brutality case.

Dozens of people have been arrested in riots that broke out in several cities amid outrage over the violent arrest of Theo, a 22-year-old black man. He was hospitalized with a 10cm tear to his anus inflicted by a baton during an encounter with police in the Paris suburb of Aulnay-sous-Bois. The four officers involved in his arrest are still under investigation, one for rape and three others on counts of suspected assault.

The arrest and subsequent riots, which echoed the first stirrings of nationwide riots in 2005, raised security concerns three months before the election begins. Le Pen immediately sided with police, saying she did so out of “principle” until an investigation was completed. As riots broke out on the sidelines of protests against police brutality, she called for them to be banned outright.

Macron, who has pulled ahead as Fillon lost ground due to a payments scandal involving his wife, criticized violence and rioting. But he also drew the ire of many conservatives when he called colonization a “crime against humanity” during a trip to Algeria, forcing him to walk back on the comments during a campaign stop in southern France.

Meanwhile, polls show little impact on Le Pen from investigations into misuse of parliament funds. The National Front leader has been ordered to pay €300,000 back to the European Parliament following an investigation by OLAF, the EU anti-fraud watchdog, which said she had paid her personal bodyguard and an assistant working from her Paris headquarters with Parliament cash, in breach of rules on how assistants may be used.

Le Pen, who filed a lawsuit against OLAF earlier this month, criticized the raid on her party headquarters, the second by French magistrates investigating the case, as a “media operation.”


Nicholas Vinocur

  Marine Le Pen's Front National headquarters raided by police
French far-right party dismisses police search as ‘media operation whose goal is to disturb course of presidential campaign’

Kim Willsher in Paris
Monday 20 February 2017 18.08 GMT

French police searched the headquarters of Marine Le Pen’s far-right Front National on Monday evening as part of an official investigation into “fake” jobs involving the misuse of European Union funds to pay for a bodyguard and an assistant in Paris.

Brussels investigators claim Le Pen paid her bodyguard, Thierry Légier, more than €41,500 (£35,350) between October and December 2011, by falsely claiming he was an EU parliamentary assistant. She is also accused of paying nearly €298,000 between December 2010 and 2016 to her France-based assistant Catherine Griset.

To qualify as a parliamentary assistant, the person needs to be physically working in one of the European parliament’s three offices in Brussels, Strasbourg or Luxembourg and be resident near that workplace.

The European anti-fraud office (Olaf) has insisted Le Pen, 48, a frontrunner in France’s presidential campaign, repay the money, a total of €340,000. She has refused and is currently having it deducted from her MEP’s salary.

An FN statement claimed Monday’s raids were an attempt to “disturb the smooth running of the presidential campaign and to sink Marine Le Pen at the moment her campaign is making strides with voting intentions”.

French investigators opened a preliminary inquiry for fraud in December following Olaf’s claims and Monday’s raids on the FN officers were part of their search for evidence.

Her refusal to repay the money by the end of January deadline meant her MEP pay will be halved to around €3,000 from this month and most of her allowances and expenses frozen. In total she is expected to lose around €7,000 a month.

Le Pen said she refused to “submit to persecution”.

“I formally contest this unilateral and illegal decision taken by political opponents ... without proof and without waiting for a judgment from the court action I have started,” Le Pen told Reuters.

An opinion poll on Monday put Le Pen seven points clear of the centrist outsider Emmanuel Macron and his conservative rival François Fillon, who are tied on 20%, in the first round. But the Front National leader would lose to both Macron and Fillon in the May 7 run-off, the poll predicted, by margins of 16 and 12 points respectively.

Three other FN members of the European parliament, including Le Pen’s father and party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, have been ordered by the European court to reimburse around €600,000 of allegedly misused money.

Le Pen père has been told to repay €320,000 of salary and benefits, Bruno Gollnisch, a former academic convicted of Holocaust denial, €275,984, and MEP Mylène Troszczynski, €56,500. All three deny any wrongdoing and had challenged the reimbursement demand saying it would leave them unable to carry out their MEP duties. Last week, the court rejected their appeal and ruled the recovery of the money should go ahead.

Marine Le Pen is the second French presidential contender under investigation in “fake” jobs scandals. Centre right candidate François Fillon is facing accusations over claims he paid his British wife Penelope around €830,000 as a parliamentary assistant for more than a decade, and also paid his two eldest children Marie and Charles a total of €84,000 as assistants while he was a senator. French MPs and senators are allowed to employ family members, as long as the person is genuinely employed. Anti-fraud police are now looking into what, if anything, Penelope Fillon did.

After the Fillon scandal broke in January, Fillon said he would stand down if he was charged with an offence. However, last week, after the financial court refused to drop the case, Fillon appeared to backtrack on this pledge, saying he would continue to run and allow the “universal electorate” to decide.

Monday’s raids on the FN offices at Nanterre, just outside Paris, came as Le Pen was trying to raise her international profile with a two-day visit to Lebanon, where she reiterated her pro-Syria regime stance. Le Pen, who is running on an anti-immigration, anti-European platform said the only “viable and workable solution” to the Syrian civil war was the choice of either Bashar al-Assad or Islamic State.

“I clearly explained that in the political picture, the least bad option is the politically realistic one. It appears that Bashar al-Assad is evidently the most reassuring solution for France,” she said.

Associated Press reported that a summary of Le Pen’s meeting with the Lebanese prime minister, Saad Hariri, showed he had objected to what he saw as Le Pen’s stigmatisation of Muslims.

“Muslims are the first victims [of terrorism],” he was reported as saying adding that moderate Muslims were the “first bulwark against extremism”.

“The worst mistake would be the amalgam between Islam and Muslims on one hand and terrorism on the other,” he added, according to AP.

Le Pen was the second French presidential candidate to travel to Lebanon, following former Socialist minister Emmanuel Macron’s visit in January.

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