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France's far-right National Front basks in election victory

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Marine Le Pen trumpets far-right National Front's victory in European elections in France
France's National Front was one of several right-wing parties to make election gains in Europe
European Union leaders meet in Brussels to discuss fallout of EU elections

Fresh from a stunning victory at the polls, the leader of France's far-right National Front said Tuesday she was confident of finding allies in the newly elected European Parliament who would form a powerful bloc opposed to the European Union, immigration and free trade.

Marine Le Pen claimed a strong mandate from France's European elections Sunday, which saw her party win the largest share of the vote in her nation: 25%. The National Front was one of several right-wing populist groups that experienced a surge of support at the polls across the continent, campaigning on an explicitly anti-EU or anti-euro platform.

European leaders are scheduled to begin a two-day summit Tuesday evening at which they will discuss how to respond to the rise in populist and anti-EU sentiment. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls called the National Front's success "an earthquake that all responsible leaders must respond to."

Le Pen is to travel to Brussels on Wednesday in the hope of persuading other far-right members of the European Parliament to form a powerful "Euroskeptic" alliance, bonded by their contempt for the very institution in which they will be serving.

"There are a whole group of movements that, in my opinion, are interested in taking part in a large political force whose aim would be to prevent any new move toward European federalism," Le Pen told reporters Tuesday at National Front headquarters in the Parisian suburb of Nanterre. "We are absolutely confident in our chances of success in this."

However, she angrily denied reports that she was planning to join forces with extreme-right parties in Greece and Hungary that have been accused of anti-Semitism and violence toward immigrants. Le Pen has sought to "de-demonize" the National Front in France and shed the image it had under her father, party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, as a refuge for neo-Nazi thugs.

She said she would not be meeting the newly elected Udo Voigt, an openly neo-Nazi representative of Germany's NPD party, and would shun an alliance with Greece's Golden Dawn and Hungary's Jobbik parties.

Instead, the National Front, which needs the support of 25 deputies from seven different countries to form an officially recognized grouping in the European Parliament, will count on traditional allies such as Vlaams Belang in Belgium, the FPO in Austria and the Northern League in Italy, all of which are anti-immigration. Le Pen is also believed to have contacted like-minded leaders in the Netherlands, Sweden and Slovakia.

Another anti-EU party that made strong inroads in last week's elections was Britain's U.K. Independence Party, or UKIP, which won 27% of the vote in Britain. It is seeking the same allies as the National Front in the European Parliament, but it has expressly ruled out joining together with the National Front because of what UKIP leader Nigel Farage has called the front's "toxic baggage," meaning its anti-Semitic past.

Le Pen accused Farage of playing strategic games. "He is using the same arguments against the National Front that the system uses against him," she said.

Le Pen also repeated her call for France's National Assembly to be dissolved, saying "it is no longer at all representative of the French people." And she demanded that France call a halt to talks between the European Union and the United States to create a vast free-trade zone.

Willsher is a special correspondent.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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