Piat, 44, the mother of two daughters and the wife of a French navy pilot, was a National Assembly deputy in the Var department around Toulon for the Republican Party, the conservative component of the centre-right Union for French Democracy (UDF). She was shot on Friday evening near her house in the port of Hyeres.
Police said there could be political motives for the murder but it was more likely to be a criminal operation because of Piat's strong stand against drug-trafficking and the mafia. The local prosecutor described the assassination as very professional and said it resembled a contract killing.
Piat was travelling in her chauffeur-driven car towards her home when two men on a motorcycle drew abreast of her car. The pillion passenger fired one shot at Georges Arnaud, the driver, injuring him in the leg and forcing him to stop. Of another five bullets, two hit Piat, killing her instantly. Despite his injuries, Mr Arnaud drove to a nearby fire service and ambulance station where the deputy was found to be dead. Police found the abandoned motorcycle, stolen shortly before the killing, on Saturday.
Until 1988 Piat had been a deputy for the far-right National Front whose leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, used to describe her as his 'god- daughter' although he did not meet her until she was five years old. Piat fell out publicly with Mr Le Pen in 1988 after he made a play on the words 'four crematoire', the French term for Nazi crematorium, calling Michel Durafour, a cabinet minister of the time, 'Durafour crematoire'. Piat described this as 'dormitory humour'.
She was first elected in 1986, when a system of proportional representation ensured the election of 30 far-right deputies. After a return to two-round majority voting in the May 1988 elections, Piat was the only National Front deputy to retain her seat.
In October 1988, the National Front expelled Piat officially for refusing to follow its voting instructions. After a year as an independent, she joined the UDF and re- took her seat for her new party in the general elections last March.
As politicians expressed their shock at her death, some said Piat knew her life was in danger. She had written a report on drugs in the Var and had been a member of a parliamentary commission on the mafia in France. Claude Mignon, a Gaullist deputy, said he spoke to Piat by telephone a few hours before her death and asked when he could visit her in the south of France. She replied: 'Be careful, soon it's going to start raining grenades here.'
Just before the first round of voting in last March's elections, Piat said she had received threats against herself and her daughter. A grenade had been thrown at her campaign headquarters and a smoke bomb ignited during an election meeting. Three suspects were arrested for those incidents.
As politicians paid tribute to her work and courage, Mr Le Pen said: 'Mrs Piat was a friend of mine for a long time. But, aside from this odious crime, it is its professional nature which upsets me the most.'
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