Le Pen vows to round up illegal immigrants
PARIS (Reuters) - By Brian Love - Unshaken by the prospect of more massive street protests, French extreme right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen says he will round up illegal immigrants in "transit camps" and expel them if elected president.
Le Pen also launched more blistering attacks on the European Union on Friday, then told Prime Minister Tony Blair to stay out of France's affairs and promised to keep Turkey out of the EU if he beats conservative President Jacques Chirac on May 5.
The day after 350,000 mainly young people marched in cities nationwide, Le Pen warned the police it was their job to control further mass demonstrations on Saturday and ensure there was no trouble when opponents and supporters march in Paris on May 1.
Using words that evoked frightening memories for his critics, the man who once called the Nazi gas chambers a detail of history said he saw nothing wrong with transit camps.
"It's where we would put the illegal immigrants who try to cross the borders before sending them back to where they came from," the former paratrooper, 73, told a news conference.
"They exist in the United States, which is hardly held up as a clear example of totalitarianism."
France already has so-called "holding centres" where immigrants without proper papers are held pending a review of their cases, but anti-racist campaigners said Le Pen's use of the word "camp" smacked of Nazism.
"It is totally obnoxious," Mouloud Aounit, head of the anti-racist group MRAP, told Reuters. "It shows the true face of his National Front...He didn't use the word 'camp' by chance. He knows it conjures up what the Nazis did to the Jews."
Raising the tempo at the end of a tumultuous week that followed his shock qualification on Sunday for the presidential runoff vote against Chirac, Le Pen renewed his vow to restore the French currency and put a stop to EU integration.
In a policy statement handed to journalists, he also vowed to abolish the Schengen pact on free movement of people across national borders inside the 15-nation EU, to halt plans to enlarge the bloc and make sure Turkey, whose population is overwhelmingly Muslin, could never join.
As Le Pen spoke, 80 organisations announced marches for Saturday, including rights groups, politicians and many of the student bodies that have brought more than 500,000 people onto the streets in a wave of anti-Le Pen protests since Sunday.
Le Pen accused Chirac of orchestrating the protests, which are expected to reach a climax on May 1 with trade union organisers of traditional Labour Day rallies hoping they will mushroom into a huge show of opposition to the extreme right.
Le Pen has called a rally of his own supporters in Paris for the same day, raising fears that there could be violent clashes.
"If there are people who...attack our meetings, that will be the responsibility of the police," Le Pen said.
"I leave it to the police and the Interior Ministry...to take all steps needed to make sure our traditional (May 1) rally goes peacefully and in the most democratic way, even if it is, as I expect and hope, massive."
Le Pen polled nearly 17 percent of votes last Sunday and is widely expected to lose on May 5, with an avalanche of support swinging behind Chirac from mainstream political parties, activist groups and community organisations.
Le Pen said he would see anything less than 30 percent of the vote as a failure, without excluding that he could win.
Police on Friday said an explosion overnight had damaged the beachfront home of a local mayor of Chirac's Gaullist Rally for the Republic (RPR) party in the town of La Ciotat, near the port city of Marseille in southern France.
The mayor, Patrick Bore, was out at the time and there was no immediate indication that the blast was tied to the election. Police said witnesses saw four people running from the scene.
The head of the education department in the western town of Poitiers urged pupils to halt demonstrations, saying that he feared the worst if other activists joined what had so far been a relatively incident-free wave of protests there.
Le Pen has pledged to hold referendums to take France out of the European Union, "stop and reverse" immigration and reserve welfare benefits for the French. His policies have drawn condemnation across Europe since he qualified for the runoff.
In a barb at Blair, who has called him "repellent", Le Pen said the prime minister did not want illegal immigrants to enter Britain any more than he (Le Pen) wanted them to enter France.
"I am no more of a racist than Tony Blair, who doesn't want immigrants showing up at Sangatte," he said in a reference to a Red Cross camp on the northern French coast from where asylum seekers try to sneak into Britain through the Channel Tunnel.
Asked how he would resolve the Sangatte issue, long an irritant in Franco-British relations, Le Pen said he would charter "a special train" to send the people there to Britain.
Blair's official spokesman told Reuters: "Le Pen's policies are repellent as the prime minister has said. His racist record speaks for itself."
Le Pen also again seized on sleaze that has swirled around Chirac, who has denied corruption allegations dating from his long reign as Paris mayor until 1995.
"The battle on May 5 is between the enforcer of justice and a man who should face justice," Le Pen said.
"I think what Jacques Chirac wants is another five years of impunity in the hope that a nice little amnesty will have been declared by the end of it," he said.