French far-right chief stripped of immunity

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PARIS (AP) — French far-right leader Marine Le Pen was stripped of her European Parliament immunity Tuesday and may now face charges of racism over comments she made comparing Muslim street prayers to an occupation of French territory.

The European Parliament voted by a show of hands during a meeting in Strasbourg to withdraw Le Pen's immunity at the request of a French prosecutor. The parliament's judicial affairs committee recommended the move last month so that Le Pen could defend herself against the charges, filed by an anti-racism association.

Le Pen has reiterated the remarks first made in 2010, and on Tuesday said she stands behind them and looks forward to defending her comments in front of a judge.

"I'm going to defend myself before the court, and I'm absolutely convinced that the court will rule in my favor and protect my right to say to the French the truth about the situation, notably prayers in the streets, but not only that," Le Pen said in an interview on French television channel BFM.

Le Pen has said she wants to broaden appeal for her National Front party, known for its anti-immigration, anti-Islam views. But in the summer of 2011 during her unsuccessful presidential campaign, Le Pen spoke out against Muslims kneeling in Paris streets for Friday prayers when there is not enough space inside mosques.

She called the street prayers a form of "occupation" and said the prayers are a "political act by fundamentalists."

Le Pen confounded polls and shocked many observers by finishing third in the presidential ballot, garnering 18 percent of the vote in the first round in May 2012.

Since then she has scored high in several recent polls, and her party holds two seats in the French parliament.

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