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They call her racist – but could Marine Le Pen become France’s next President?

MANY consider her racist, others a Vladimir Putin stooge, but here in Arras, in the Pas-de-Calais region, they fervently chanted: “Marine for President.”

IN a cavernous hall in her French rust belt heartland, Marine Le Pen was given the sort of welcome usually reserved for rock stars.

Could far-right firebrand  Marine Le Pen from France’s most toxic political dynasty really be on the cusp of a seismic electoral victory to rival Brexit and Donald Trump?

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Could far-right firebrand Marine Le Pen from France’s most toxic political dynasty really be on the cusp of a seismic electoral victory to rival Brexit and Donald Trump?Credit: AFP
In the first round of voting a fortnight ago, Le Pen beat Macron in all age groups under 60

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In the first round of voting a fortnight ago, Le Pen beat Macron in all age groups under 60Credit: AFP
Many consider her racist, others a Vladimir Putin stooge, but here in Arras, in the Pas-de-Calais region, they fervently chanted: 'Marine for President'

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Many consider her racist, others a Vladimir Putin stooge, but here in Arras, in the Pas-de-Calais region, they fervently chanted: ‘Marine for President’Credit: AFP

Could the far-right firebrand from France’s most toxic political dynasty really be on the cusp of a seismic electoral victory to rival Brexit and Donald Trump?

What stood out among the 5,000 waving tricolour flags amid pulsating music and dazzling lights at her final rally on Thursday evening was the youth of much of the audience.

Pharmacy worker Lolita Boulet, 28, and brother Remi, 16, are wide-eyed with excitement as Le Pen takes to the stage after warm-up tracks from Muse and Coldplay.

Gripping her French flag, Lolita told me: “Marine listens to the people. France has big problems with the cost of living and there’s been too much immigration.”

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Trigger civil war

To better understand the forces that have propelled Le Pen into tomorrow’s presidential run-off against current President Emmanuel Macron I travelled some 15 miles to her constituency in the old pit town of Hénin-Beaumont.

Ringed by giant, pyramid-shaped slag heaps, the red-brick ex-miners’ cottages here were once an impregnable bastion of socialism.

The coal mines have long gone — and so have many of the left-wing votes — for this is now the fiefdom of the far right.

Puffing on a cigarette outside the employment agency where she works, Camille Mollet, 27, said: “All my family voted for the Left until 2017. They did nothing for us.

“Now I will vote Le Pen. I want change, not the same old politics.”

In the first round of voting a fortnight ago, Le Pen beat Macron in all age groups under 60.

Centrist Macron is widely derided in this staunchly working-class town for “looking after the rich”.

Classroom assistant Matheo Pillain, 20, revealed: “It’s hard to like Macron. He’s arrogant. He thinks he’s better than the average person.

“I’ll vote for Marine because she cares about the French people. She wants to lower the price of petrol and cut taxes.”

An EU and Nato sceptic, Le Pen has campaigned under the slogan, “Give the French their country back”. She wants to ban Muslim headscarves in public and slash housing subsidies and healthcare for new immigrants.

Yet Le Pen has softened much of her old hardline rhetoric, replaced — on the surface at least — with a more polished politician now seen as a serious challenger to Macron.

There was a recent Oprah Winfrey-style interview with a reality TV presenter in which Le Pen cooed about gardening in her spare time and her love of cats.

Previously, mum-of-three Le Pen — whose mother modelled nude for Playboy — had campaigned for a “Frexit” and said France should bin the Euro.

But in this campaign she dropped the policies, instead vowing to scrap the EU’s border-free Schengen Area and reintroduce border checks.

The rebrand, mixed with her anti-immigration messages, won her the Hénin-Beaumont constituency in the first round of the Presidential election, with 51 per cent of the vote.

Macron, 44, trailed in third place here, behind Corbynesque far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, with just 17 per cent.

Lawyer Le Pen, 53, repeated her success across swathes of the old pit towns and rolling wheat fields of the Pas-de-Calais district, which stretches to the English Channel.

Hénin-Beaumont restaurant chef Esmahen Bougerra, 49, is horrified and frightened by the rise of Le Pen.

The mum of four told me: “My dad came here from Algeria to work down the mines in 1952. People would look at us in the street like we weren’t French, but I was born here. Things changed for the better, but now Le Pen is trying to take us backwards.

“I think she’s racist. I think she wants to limit immigration and close off France to the world.

“She has the insincere smile of a saleswoman. I don’t believe she’s really become less extreme.”

In Wednesday’s TV debate, Macron said Le Pen’s Muslim headscarf ban would trigger “civil war” in the country that has the largest Muslim population in Western Europe.

Macron has also warned voters not to be fooled by Le Pen’s seemingly moderate makeover, calling her “a racist” of “great brutality”.

During the bruising TV head-to-head, Macron attacked the National Rally (RN) party leader, saying: “When you speak to Russia, you speak to your banker.”

The president was referring to a £7.8million loan made to NR by a Russian bank in 2014.

Le Pen has lent strong support to bloodthirsty Putin for many years, approving his 2014 annexation of Crimea.

With the dramatic decline of mainstream centre-left and centre-right parties, France seems locked in fierce political combat between Le Pen’s nationalists and Macron’s globalists.

Marine isn’t racist, she’s just more patriotic than Macron. She meets the farmers and shakes people’s hands.

Arlette, 75

Hénin-Beaumont, where the mines closed more than three decades ago, is a community where — like some Red Wall seats in Britain — many feel a sense of being left behind.

At the Au Coq Lillois restaurant near Hénin-Beaumont town hall, landlady Arlette, 75, said: “Nothing has replaced the mines here. This place was packed with working men who liked a drink. It was a great atmosphere in town.

“Now it’s not the same. Lots of companies have opened and closed.”

The grandmother of two — who has worked in the bar for almost 60 years — added: “All my customers are voting Le Pen and so am I.

“Marine isn’t racist, she’s just more patriotic than Macron. She meets the farmers and shakes people’s hands.”

Tomorrow’s election run-off is Le Pen’s third attempt to become France’s first female president.

She has desperately attempted to shed the legacy of growing up the daughter of rabid holocaust denier Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Social disorder

Le Pen senior, 93, who made the run-off for the 2002 presidency, often complained that there were too many non-white players in the French football team.

His daughter’s campaign has focused on protecting France from “insecurity, economic and social disorder, and Islamist terrorism”.

It has won over mum-of-four Cindy Vitellaro, 40, who said: “Marine will hopefully help working people and control the cost of living and inflation.

“It’s difficult to pay the bills at the end of each month. Macron is president of the rich.”

Opinion polls suggest Macron will retain the presidency with 56 per cent of the vote. In 2017, he beat Le Pen with 66 per cent.

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Yet the French are clearly getting used to the idea of a far-right president, which sends an uneasy shudder down liberal spines.

With a youthquake of votes behind her, few now doubt Le Pen is in striking distance of the presidential Elysee Palace — if not at this election, then the next.

The Sun's Oliver Harvey travelled some 15 miles to Le Pen's constituency in the old pit town of Hénin-Beaumont to better understand what is driving her support

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The Sun’s Oliver Harvey travelled some 15 miles to Le Pen’s constituency in the old pit town of Hénin-Beaumont to better understand what is driving her supportCredit: Simon Jones



Reference-www.thesun.co.uk

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