In France, Sarkozy And Hollande Must Woo Fans Of Far-Right Leader Le Pen

The big surprise in Sunday’s first-round presidential election came from the far right. Marine Le Pen’s National Front won 17.9% of the vote, a record high for the party. President Sarkozy and his Socialist challenger will battle for her voters from both

Marine Le Pen earlier this month in Paris (RemiJDN)
Marine Le Pen earlier this month in Paris (RemiJDN)


PARIS -- "If Le Pen is a jerk, then those who vote for him are jerks…" This memorable line came from Bernard Tapie in 1992 before becoming one of then-President Francois Mitterrand's government ministers. And he was referring to Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder of the far right National Front party, and perennial presidential candidate.

The National Front is now led by the founder's daughter, Marine Le Pen, who tallied an all-time record in Sunday's first round of voting, just shy of 18%. Many analysts say the winner of the runoff on May 6 between President Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist challenger François Hollande will be the candidate best able to woo Le Pen's first-round supporters.

Sarkozy is clearly not taking Tapie's route. "I wouldn't dare lecture them," he said Monday about the 17.9% of French voters who opted for Le Pen. "I saw that some criticized them for voting for the extremes. I don't blame them," Sarkozy added during his first post-election rally near Tour.

The incumbent also fired away at the Socialist camp. "I will not be lectured, especially not by a left that wanted to bring Dominique Strauss-Kahn to the presidency. Just imagine if it had been us," he said. Later that afternoon Sarkozy set off for a campaign tour of rural France, where support for Le Pen was especially high. "Why should there be good and bad votes?" he said.

Sarkozy has decided to hold a major rally on May 1, international Labor Day, a date traditionally marked by rallies from both the National Front on the right and the country's major labor unions. "We will organize a Labor day, but a real labor day, for those who work hard, who are under threat, who are hurting and who don't want people who don't work to get more than those who do work," he said.

Hollande, who finished more than a percentage point ahead of Sarkozy on Sunday, also kicked off his second-round campaign with an overture to disenchanted voters, promising greater government attention for "the workers who wonder what tomorrow will bring, the pensioners who are exhausted, the farmers who fear for the survival of their livelihood, the youth who wonder about their future."

Hollande is heading east to "regions hit hard by unemployment" – and where Le Pen got some of her highest support.

Hollande faces a complicated political equation. On the one hand he must concentrate his fire on Sarkozy, all the while doing his best to shore up votes from the far left and environmental parties. At the same time, he'll try to gain ground in the political center and, hopefully, convince some of Le Pen's voters to get on board as well.

"François thought he would have had a higher tally, with a bigger gap between him and Sarkozy and a much stronger Jean-Luc Mélenchon," says one Socialist party official. "The difficulty is less mathematical than political. We must point to Sarkozy's failings, push him to the right in order to get the center, while at the same time speaking to National Front voters. It's a matter of proportion."

Read more from Le Monde in French

Photo - RemiJDN

*Newsbites are digest items, not direct translations

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Dutch Cities Have Been Secretly Probing Mosques Since 2013

Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.

The Nasser mosque in Veenendaal, one of the mosques reportedly surveilled

Meike Eijsberg

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Photo of people standing on prayer mats inside a Dutch mosque

Praying inside a Dutch mosque.


Broken trust in Islamic community

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

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