Le Pen Plays The Race Card Again. (France)

Le Pen plays the race card again. This time he hopes it will soften his image

By Henry Samuel in Paris
The Telegraph
Last Updated: 2:35am GMT 13/12/2006

France's far-Right National Front party has launched a poster campaign featuring a mixed-race girl in an apparent bid to modernise its xenophobic image ahead of elections in the spring.

A slogan next to the girl, who points her thumb to the floor in a sign of disapproval, says: “Right, Left, they've broken everything: nationality, assimilation, the social ladder, secularism.”

The poster is an historic first for Jean-Marie Le Pen's party whose central policy is “national preference”, whose electorate comprises only a handful of ethnic minority supporters, and which has spent decades whipping up anti-immigrant sentiment.

Mr Le Pen, who shocked France and spurred protests when he reached the second round of presidential elections in 2002, has shown little prior interest in trying to attract the non-white vote.

But opinion polls on Monday showed that he trailed both mainstream candidates by almost 20 per cent. Political commentators described the new campaign as an “iconoclastic” bid to soften his party's image.

All the presidential candidates are jostling to broaden their support ahead of the polls in April. Nicolas Sarkozy, the interior minister and the ruling Right's prospective successor to President Jacques Chirac, has sought to harden his image. On Monday he proposed creating a cabinet post of immigration minister if elected.

Sgolne Royal, the Socialist candidate, has also adopted a more authoritarian tone and has suggested introducing boot camps for juvenile delinquents.

The posters are seen as a sign of the growing influence of Marine Le Pen, the leader's daughter and head of campaign strategy. She is trying to project a more amenable image of her father, whose description of the Nazi gas chambers as “a detail of history” and subsequent outbursts have placed him beyond the pale for most French.

She said the poster aimed to show that her father incarnated “the candidate to bring together the French people regardless of their religious, ethnic or even political origin.” The poster girl, who could be seen as “French of immigrant origin” of “French from an overseas territory,” had “a rightful place” in the campaign, Miss Le Pen said. “A certain number of French of immigrant origin are aware of the failure” of the Right and Left, she said.

“Many are turning to the candidate of Jean-Marie Le Pen.” She refused to say whether the girl, who requested anonymity, was a National Front supporter, but added that “anyone starring in a party poster cannot be far [from its ideas]”.

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