Topless Femen activists disrupt Le Pen's May Day speech in Paris

Reuters News
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Posted: May 01, 2015 7:35 AM

PARIS (Reuters) - Three topless women from the Femen activist group, making Nazi salutes, disrupted a May Day speech by French far-right leader Marine Le Pen on Friday attacking her political rivals.

After elections in which her anti-EU party gained power in local and regional elections across France, Le Pen has sought to capitalize on discontent over Socialist President Francois Hollande's handling of the economy and rising unemployment.

Her speech took aim at Hollande and former President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is trying to put his conservative UMP party back on track ahead of the 2017 presidential election.

"They have allowed massive immigration to install itself in France. They have unpinned the Islamic fundamentalist grenade," Le Pen said. "We are right on everything."

Before she was able to start her speech to hundreds of National Front (FN) supporters in central Paris, she was twice caught off guard.

Her father Jean-Marie, founder of the party and usually a speaker at the event, unexpectedly took to the podium to cheers despite a party disciplinary procedure against him over his repeated controversial comments about World War Two.

The 86-year-old former paratrooper trundled off stage without uttering a word and did not wait to listen to his daughter's speech.

Minutes later, three Femen activists with the slogans "Heil Le Pen" and "Stop Fascism" written on their bare breasts chanted anti-National Front slogans from the balcony of a building overlooking the stage, to boos from the crowd.

"Lots of surprises on this May 1," a visibly uneasy Le Pen said. "It's quite a paradox when you call yourself a feminist and try to disturb a tribute to Joan of Arc."

FN supporters had earlier laid a wreath at a statue of the 15th-century French heroine, who has been seized on by the far right as a nationalist symbol.

After about 10 minutes, four National Front security men seized the protesting women, who were later arrested.

"They will be forced to get dressed," Le Pen said.

Since succeeding her father as party chief in 2011, Marine has sought to rid the FN of its anti-Semitic image and position it as an anti-immigrant, Eurosceptic force proposing protectionist policies.

(Reporting by John Irish; editing by Andrew Roche)