Zhirinovsky bid backed by Le Pen

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The Independent Online
Moscow (Reuter) - The French far-right leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, backed Vladimir Zhirinovsky's presidential bid yesterday when he flew in to Moscow for a weekend of partying with the Russian ultra-nationalist he described as a friend and ally.

``I'm hoping for close co- operation, especially if Mr Zhirinovsky wins the presidential election,'' Mr Le Pen said at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport.

The French politician and his wife have been invited to a lavish silver wedding party Zhirinovsky is throwing tomorrow, to launch his campaign for the presidential election on 16 June.

But Le Pen's party, the National Front, appeared keen to play down relations with a man who once spat at Jewish students in Strasbourg and who was barred from free movement within France because of his anti-Semitic and xenophobic views.

``His visit has nothing to do with the party and does not mean any change in National Front policy," a spokesman, Alain Vizier, said, denying that a plan for a joint news conference was a sign of support for Zhirinovsky's campaign.

Yet Le Pen, who denies he is an anti-Semite, despite often incurring the wrath of Jewish activists, said that, while he had his differences with Zhirinovsky, he broadly supported him. "As president of a French political party,'' he said, ``I would not come to an official ceremony if I did not have sympathy and esteem for Mr Zhirinovsky and his political views."

Publications friendly to Le Pen have been critical of Zhirinovsky's movement, which advocates the aggressive extension of Russian military power.

But Le Pen said the French Government's decision to deny Zhirinovsky access to the rest of the country when he visited European institutions in Strasbourg was scandalous.

"The French Government is not the judge of the dignity, nor of the quality, of our foreign guests." he said, noting that Zhirinovsky had been democratically elected.

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