France’s Marie Le Pen pledges to hold referendum on EU if elected

France’s presidential hopeful and leader of far-right National Front party Marine Le Pen pledges to hold referendum for France citizens to exit European Union

The leader of France’s far-right National Front party, Marine Le Pen, vowed on Saturday to hold a referendum on whether France stays in or leaves the European Union if she wins the 2017 presidential election.

In her first public meeting after a summer break, Le Pen focused on her favourite issues, such as national sovereignty, immigration control, Islamism, and what she calls “savage globalisation”. She portrayed herself as the sole credible defender of law and order and national unity, saying the best way to combat terrorism was the ballot paper.

“This referendum on France belonging to the European Union, I will do it. Yes it is possible to change things. Look at the Brits, they chose their destiny, they chose independence ... We can again be a free, proud and independent people,” she said.

The National Front was the only major French political party to call for Britons to vote to leave the European Union, hoping Brexit would boost its own eurosceptic agenda at home. Following the British precedent, Le Pen promised to hold a nationwide referendum on whether France should leave or remain in the European Union if she is elected president.

“I will do it in France,” she said and hailed the British who had “the courage to choose their destiny” by voting to leave the EU.

Le Pen's increasingly popular party thrives on anti-Europe and anti-immigration sentiment and opinion polls see her making it to an early May run-off in France's presidential election, but losing that second round to a mainstream candidate, as a majority of voters do not want her as president.

Along with the economy, the relationship between France’s Muslims and non-Muslims has been a recurring theme as presidential hopefuls have kicked off their campaigns.

Some 700 supporters waving French flags repeatedly cheered the smiling Le Pen on Saturday, with shouts of "Marine, President" during her speech.

Referring to the controversy over local French bans on the burkini swimwear, she denounced a “relegation of women behind fabrics” and said that women should have the same right as men “to enjoy the French way of life on the beach and at school, in the street and at work”.

She said she fears “dress segregation” will eventually pave the way for a “physical and legal” relegation of women.

“When are we going to have a ban on make-up? Then a ban (for women) to appear in public?” she asked.

Le Pen branded the rise of Islamic fundamentalism as the "new totalitarianism of the 21st century" and suggested terrorists were hiding among migrants.

"The best weapon against terrorism is the ballot," she said.

Since January 2015, Islamic State group-inspired attackers have killed at least 235 people in France.

French citizens or French-speaking residents have committed the overwhelming majority of strikes, often employing suicide tactics alongside command of their home surroundings.

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