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France FN leader Le Pen to stand trial over Muslim prayer row

image copyrightAFP
image captionMarine Le Pen made the comments at a public meeting of FN supporters in Lyon in 2010, before she was party leader

Marine Le Pen, the leader of France's far-right National Front, has been ordered to stand trial in October on charges of inciting racial hatred.

The charges relate to her comments made in 2010 comparing Muslims praying in the streets to the Nazi occupation of France in World War Two.

The European Parliament paved the way for her prosecution in 2013 by removing her immunity as an MEP.

Ms Le Pen has defended her remarks and called the charges "intimidation".

She will appear in court in Lyon on 20 October, according to French media reports.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionA ban on praying on the streets of Paris has angered many in the country's Muslim community

Lyon is where, in December 2010, Ms Le Pen told FN supporters that the sight of Muslims praying in the street was similar to the Nazi occupation in World War Two.

In her speech, broadcast by French media, she said that France had initially seen "more and more veils", then "more and more burkas" and "after that came prayers in the streets".

She said: "I'm sorry, but some people are very fond of talking about the Second World War and about the occupation, so let's talk about occupation, because that is what is happening here...

"There are no tanks, no soldiers, but it is still an occupation, and it weighs on people."

Stripped of immunity

Praying in the streets was banned in Paris in 2011 in response to growing far-right protests.

In the same year France became the first EU state to ban public wearing of the face-covering Islamic veil (niqab).

France is home to the largest number of Muslim residents of all EU member states.

By some estimates, as many as six million French people, or just under 10% of the population, are Muslims, and many have origins in France's former North African colonies.

An initial investigation was launched following's Ms Le Pen's speech, made as she was campaigning to become FN leader, but it was later closed with no result.

image copyrightEPA
image captionMarine Le Pen has tried to steer the FN away from its racist and anti-Semitic past under her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen

A complaint by an anti-racist association then led to a judicial enquiry in January 2012.

Ms Le Pen was charged in July 2014 after her immunity as a member of the European Parliament was lifted following a vote.

The European Parliament stripped her father, the FN's founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, of his immunity in 1997 and he was later fined by a German court for playing down the Holocaust.

He had dismissed the Nazi gas chambers as "a detail" in WW2 history.

His daughter, who has tried to steer the party away from its racist and anti-Semitic past, is widely expected to run for French president in 2017.

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