France's Le Pen launches election bid with vow to fight globalization

The far-right candidates' campaign promises include drastically curbing migration, expelling all illegal migrants, and holding a referendum on France's European Union membership.

Michel Euler/AP
Far-right leader presidential candidate Marine Le Pen gestures as she speaks during a conference in Lyon, France, Sunday, Feb. 5, 2017. Britain's decision to leave the European Union and the election of U.S. President Donald Trump have given the French a "reason to vote" because it can result in real change, the top lieutenant of far-right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen declared Sunday ahead of her long-awaited speech.

France's far-right party leader Marine Le Pen on Sunday told thousands of flag-waving supporters chanting "This is our country!" that she alone would protect them against Islamic fundamentalism and globalization if elected president in May.

Buoyed by Donald Trump's victory and Britons' vote to leave the European Union, Ms. Le Pen's anti-immigration, anti-EU National Front (FN) hopes for similar populist momentum in France.

With hitherto favorite Francois Fillon, a conservative, embroiled in scandal over his wife's job and rising centrist star, Emmanuel Macron, yet untested, Le Pen's FN says it can thwart polls that see her losing in a second round run-off.

"What is at stake in this election ... is whether France can still be a free nation," Le Pen told supporters at her campaign launch rally. "The divide is not between the left and right anymore but between patriots and globalists!"

In 144 "commitments" published on Saturday, Le Pen says she would drastically curb migration, expel all illegal migrants and reserve certain rights now available to all residents, including free education, to French citizens only.

An FN government would also take France out of the euro zone, hold a referendum on EU membership, slap taxes on imports and on the job contracts of foreigners.

"Past leaders chose deregulated globalization. They said it would be a happy one, it turned out to be atrocious," Le Pen said. "Financial globalization and Islamist globalization are helping each other out ... Those two ideologies want to bring France to its knees."

While Le Pen has sought to make the FN more palatable to mainstream voters since she took over from her father Jean-Marie Le Pen in 2011, her speech on Sunday made clear that its anti-migration, anti-EU policy remained at the core of her agenda.

Le Pen received some of the loudest applause during her speech, with standing ovations to the sound of "France! France!" and "On est chez nous!" ("This is our country") when she pledged to expel all foreigners condemned for a crime or misdemeanor, and when she said migrants without identity papers could never be legally allowed to stay in France or get free healthcare.

The crowd chanted in response: "We're going to win! We're going to win!"

(Additional reporting by Simon Carraud; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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