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France

French far right hopes for breakthrough in local polls

Front National leader Marine Le Pen
Front National leader Marine Le Pen Reuters/Jean-Paul Pelissier

France's Front National hopes to make a breakthrough in this month's local council elections. The far-right party has a record number of lists of candidates in towns of more than 3,500 inhabitants.

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In French municipal elections rival camps present lists and seats are shared out according to the votes received, the new council then electing a mayor.

Despite facing a struggle to recruit candidates in some areas, the FN is fielding lists in one in five towns with over 3,500 residents - 597 lists in towns of over 1,000.

Resentment of the European Union and globalisation, anxiety about crime and hostility to immigrants, especially Muslims and Roms, have been the party's main themes in the run-up to the poll.

The record unpopularity of President François Hollande and his Socialist-led government and successive scandals hitting the mainstream-right UMP have raised its hopes of winning seats and even taking control of up to a dozen towns.

But there have been problems.

In the central town of Nevers, the list leader was forced to disown a candidate whose Facebook page showed her with a Nazi flag on her wall, an embarrassment given party leader Marine Le Pen's efforts to clean up the party's image.

Last October a list leader was suspended for publishing racist slurs against Justice Minister Christiane Taubira on Facebook.

In at least three other towns the FN has been accused of standing people, including a couple in their 90s, without their consent.

The party on Saturday announced the formation of a new students' group, Collectif Racine, to defend "meritocracy" against a supposed "massification" of higher education that it claims devalues degrees.

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