French far-right leader to visit

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The Independent Online

Jean-Marie Le Pen, the right-wing extremist, is set to visit Britain amid concern the country's far-right movement is making political gains from fears over immigration and terrorism.

Jean-Marie Le Pen, the right-wing extremist, is set to visit Britain amid concern the country's far-right movement is making political gains from fears over immigration and terrorism.

The French leader of the National Front has been invited by the British National Party (BNP) to be guest of honour at a gala dinner where he is expected to make a speech about immigration.

The £80-a-ticket fund-raiser, hosted by Nick Griffin, the BNP leader, is scheduled to take place on 25 April in the West Midlands. The venue is being kept secret to prevent anti-racism protesters from disrupting the meeting.

The influence of the far right in Britain is of increasing concern to the Government. Yesterday, Labour MP Martin Salter took the unprecedented step of calling on people to vote for opposition parties - even the Tories - to prevent the BNP from winning seats.

"If you want to stop your country degenerating into chaos, if you don't want to see racist graffiti, if you don't want to see racial tension and violence, you should vote for whoever is best placed to beat the BNP," said Mr Salter, deputy leader of Labour's parliamentary campaign team and Reading West MP. An exit poll study carried out by the Labour parliamentary campaign team and the anti-fascist organisation Searchlight revealed there is a significant anti-BNP vote in Britain, with up to 20 per cent of the electorate deliberately choosing the party most likely to keep out the BNP.

Mr Salter said that inviting Mr Le Pen "blows the gaff" on attempts by the BNP to disguise its "racist credentials".

This is the first time in more than a decade that the French politician, who is in his 70s, has addressed a far-right meeting in Britain. Mr Le Pen speaks no English and would have to address the BNP meeting in French.

Last week, Mr Le Pen's party headquarters at Saint-Cloud, near Paris, confirmed that he had received an invitation to speak in Britain but said that he had not yet decided whether to accept. However, a BNP spokesman said: "As far as we are concerned he has already agreed to come."

Mr Le Pen's expected visit coincides with an increase in race crimes against immigrants, especially Muslims. Figures published this week by the Crown Prosecution Service are expected to show that religiously motivated attacks against Muslims outstrip those against any other religious faiths in Britain.

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