PARIS (AP) — French far-right leader Marine Le Pen has implored thousands of people at her party's annual march to vote in European parliamentary elections this month to give her a platform for her anti-European Union cause.
Le Pen, who has taken her party from pariah status to mainstream, laid a wreath Thursday at the statue of Joan of Arc, the National Front's patron saint before addressing a crowd gathered outside the ornate Paris Opera.
The crowd withstood rain during speeches by Le Pen and her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder of the National Front, their sights set on European elections after rousing victories in March local voting.
Nationalist ideas are making inroads among European voters disillusioned by Europe's economic woes, and could influence May 22-25 voting for a new European Parliament. France votes May 25.
Le Pen wants to capitalize on victories in municipal elections that gave her party control of a record 11 towns.
"Our country has the most urgent need to once again become its own master," Le Pen said to cheers, condemning both the euro currency and the European Union as a system run by and for big banks, not the people.
"It is essential to vote .... Don't disappoint me," she pleaded.
Le Pen and her father, party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, are seeking to renew their mandates as European deputies and increase their numbers. The goal is to form a parliamentary group with other far-right parties in Europe to gain clout.
"We need a strong group" to work to undo Europe, she said. "Let us rewrite history."
Recent polls show the National Front vying with France's conservative UMP for first position ahead of voting, with the governing Socialists in third place, results that reflect the rise of the far-right cause across Europe.
Marine Le Pen has worked to clean up the racist image of the National Front, once denounced as anti-Semitic. Today, the party decries what it claims are the dangers of Islam imported by massive Muslim immigration, a divisive subject not mentioned in her pre-election speech.
The only disturbance came from unexpected quarters: bare-breasted radical feminists of the Femen group who raised shouts as they ran through the crowd, the words "Fascist Epidemic" scrawled on their chests and backs. One was seen being tackled and placed in a police van.