Le Pen to meet first head of state during Lebanon trip

AFP , Saturday 18 Feb 2017

Le Pen
Marine Le Pen, French National Front (FN) political party leader and candidate for French 2017 presidential election, attends a political rally in Clairvaux-les-Lacs, France, February 17, 2017 (Photo: Reuters)

France's far-right leader and presidential candidate Marine Le Pen will meet Lebanon's president on Monday, her first official head-to-head talks with a head of state.

The trip will allow her to meet "leading politicians and religious figures" in Lebanon, her National Front (FN) party said Saturday.

Le Pen is leading polls of voters' intentions for the first round of the French election on April 23.

Shunned by many European leaders over her party's stance on immigration and anti-EU message, Le Pen's meeting with President Michel Aoun in Beirut is designed to add to her international credibility.

Le Pen will also meet Prime Minister Saad Hariri, an opponent of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Le Pen has criticised the EU's calls for Assad to stand down after nearly seven years of war.

France had mandate power over Lebanon and neighbouring Syria during the first half of last century, and ties between the countries have remained close.

Rival presidential hopeful and former economy minister Emmanuel Macron visited Beirut on January 24, where he met both Aoun and Hariri.

While he did not call for an alliance with Assad, Macron advocated a "balanced policy" towards the regime and the myriad rebels fighting it.

Right-wing candidate Francois Fillon, dogged by revelations his wife was paid for years with public funds for a suspected fake job as a parliamentary aide, cancelled a visit this month to Lebanon and Iraq.

Le Pen has met few foreign leaders since taking control of the National Front in 2011: She met no high-ranking Canadian politicians in a visit to Quebec last year, and Chancellor Angela Merkel refused to meet with her during a gathering of eurosceptic and far-right leaders in Germany last month.

And Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy told AFP last week that "a victory of the populists would be the end of Europe", a clear reference to Le Pen's call for a referendum on France's EU membership.

But although this would be Le Pen's first official visit with a head of state, a source in her party said it was not the first time she had met a foreign leader, while not elaborating further as to who she might previously have seen less formally.

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