French far-right leader Marine Le Pen accused of being 'too soft' on Islam in election debate 

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French far-right leader Marine Le Pen is left stunned as President Macron's interior minister accuses HER of being 'too soft' on Islam in election debate

Interior minister Gérald Darmanin said her position would 'disappoint' her baseLe Pen responded by confirming she 'does not intend to attack Islam' if electedThe debate on French TV saw opening salvos fired in a hotly contested election 

By Jack Elsom For Mailonline

Published: 11:33 GMT, 13 February 2021 | Updated: 12:03 GMT, 13 February 2021

French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen looked bewildered during a debate this week as she was accused by a Macron ally of being 'too soft' on Islam. 

Interior minister Gérald Darmanin said her efforts to rebrand the National Rally party had led to a watering down of her hardline position that would 'disappoint' her base.

Le Pen responded by defending the rights of Muslims to practice and confirmed she 'does not intend to attack Islam, which is a religion like any other'.  

That the far-right candidate was facing accusations of being too liberal left even Le Pen visibly stunned. 

French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen looked bewildered during a debate this week as she was accused by a Macron ally of being 'too soft' on Islam

The debate broadcast on French TV saw the opening salvos fired in a hotly contested election to be fought next year.

Le Pen and incumbent President Macron are expected to face off in the final round of voting and have been trading the lead in polls, which put them miles ahead of their nearest rivals.

Tackling extremism is seen as a touchstone issue in the election and comes as ministers plan tougher measures over religious associations and homeschooling.

During Thursday's debate, Darmanin said: In her attempts to rehabilitate [her party], Ms Le Pen has gone a bit soft... you need to take some vitamins, you're not tough enough here.'

He added: 'If I understand you right, you're prepared to not even legislate on religion, and you say that Islam is not even a problem. 

'You've gone quite far, it's going to disappoint quite a lot of your voters I imagine. 

Interior minister Gérald Darmanin said her efforts to rebrand the National Rally party had led to a watering down of her hardline position that would 'disappoint' her base

Le Pen responded by defending the rights of Muslims to practice and confirmed she 'does not intend to attack Islam, which is a religion like any other'

Le Pen responded: Yes I can confirm that I don't intend to attack Islam, which is a religion like any other. 

'And, because I am strongly attached to our French values, I want to conserve total freedom of religion. That's my opinion.'

She hit out at the government's plan to crack down on homeschooling - which ministers point to as a breeding ground for extremism - and instead pointed to her own proposals such as banning headscarfs for all in public and tighter migration controls. 

Le Pen has led France's most prominent far-right party since 2011, when she took the reins from her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen.

After losing the presidential run-off in 2017 to Macron and his newly formed En Marche! party, Le Pen changed the name of National Front to National Rally.  

Her anti-EU and anti-immigration firebrand populism now could finally see her win the race for the Elysee Palace.

This week she was in court facing allegations of spreading hate by publicising the images of James Foley, an American journalist who was murdered by the terrorist group in 2014.

She denied  breaking hate speech laws by tweeting 'monstrous' pictures of the ISIS atrocities in a trial she slammed as a politically motivated attempt to silence her.

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