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Le Pen's Rightist Views Find New Favor in France

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Le Pen's Rightist Views Find New Favor in France

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Le Pen's Rightist Views Find New Favor in France

Le Pen's Rightist Views Find New Favor in France

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The rightwing French politician Jean Marie Le Pen's campaign for immigration controls once drew cries of outrage. Now the French center-right espouses them, and recent urban riots further muted opposition.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Last November's riots in France are still affecting French politics. Pollsters say that more people are admitting to racist attitudes, and political analysts say that ideas that were once embraced only by the extreme right have entered the mainstream. Eleanor Beardsley reports from Paris.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY reporting:

A video on the website of the far-right National Front Party forecasts an ominous future for Paris. Torched cars litter the empty streets and fires burn in the dark, but this video wasn't made after last November's riots, it was produced seven years ago ahead of European parliamentary elections.

Marie Le Pen is Vice President of the National Front, and the daughter of the Party's controversial founder, Jean Marie Le Pen. She says mainstream politicians used to characterize the National Front's ideas as extremist, even fascist, but not anymore.

Ms. MARIE LE PEN (Vice President, National Front Party): (Through Translator) We sounded the alarm at a time when the French weren't very interested in all of these issues. But today the politicians realize that the French people are in synch with our ideas. There's been a real Le Pen-ization of the French political class.

BEARDSLEY: In a speech setting out policy for the new year, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy spoke at length about security and immigration.

Mr. NICOLAS SARKOZY (French Minister of the Interior): (French spoken)

BEARDSLEY: He says he would expel 25,000 illegal immigrants in 2006. A few years ago, such talk was only heard from right wing politicians like Jean Marie Le Pen. Now it's becoming part of mainstream political debate.

Earlier this month, the influential newspaper Le Monde, published a list of Le Pen's proposals that have now been adopted by the government.

Axel Poniatowski is a Congressman from Sarkozy's center-right party, the Union for a Popular Movement. He denies that his party is borrowing from Le Pen's handbook.

Mr. AXEL PONIATOWSKI (Congressman, Union for a Popular Movement Party): Jean Marie Le Pen has an approach concerning immigration which is connected to a racial approach. We're saying that we need immigration, but at the same time, we have to determine some rules to enable to continue to have this immigration. And I think that those rules is all what the debate is about today.

BEARDSLEY: Sarkozy does differ from Le Pen in many details. He is promoting affirmative action for minorities and wants to give immigrants the right to vote. But many on the left still accuse him of adopting Le Pen's ideas.

As news broke last November of the world's first face transplant, a satirical Paris magazine showed Sarkozy and Le Pen on its cover, their faces grafted together.

Recent polls in France show that fewer people find Le Pen's ideas excessive today than ten years ago, but while some of those ideas are being discussed more widely, political analyst Pere Tanthierier(ph), that doesn't mean the French are about to embrace Le Pen.

Mr. PERE TANTHIERIER(ph) (French Political Analyst): (Through Translator) Our polls show that the ideas of the National Front seem to have become palatable. They seem to scare people a little less than before; they're perhaps considered a little less excessive. But it doesn't mean that the people find their ideas acceptable.

BEARDSLEY: Tanthierier(ph) admits that France is feeling particularly fragile and fearful right now, which could provide fertile ground for the resurgence of right wing ideas. But he points out that those ideas won't necessarily translate into votes next year when the French go to the polls to elect a new President.

For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley, in Paris.

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