France's Le Pen starts row over freed hostages' beards

PARIS Thu Oct 31, 2013 9:09am EDT

Marine Le Pen, France's far-right National Front political party leader, takes part in a press briefing at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, October 23, 2013. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

Marine Le Pen, France's far-right National Front political party leader, takes part in a press briefing at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, October 23, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Vincent Kessler

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PARIS (Reuters) - French far right leader Marine Le Pen was criticized on Thursday for questioning the beards and scarves worn by four French hostages on their homecoming after three years as prisoners of Islamist militants in the Sahara desert.

Le Pen, whose National Front campaigns against immigration and public displays of Islam, said the appearance of the four men, kidnapped in Niger in 2010 while working for French companies at a uranium mine, was "troubling".

"Two of them had beards cut in a rather strange way. Their clothing was strange," she told Europe 1 radio. "One hostage had a scarf on his face. That all calls for some explanation on their part."

Asked whether she was implying they might have converted to Islam, she said: "I'm not making allusions. I'm telling you how I felt. I wouldn't go so far as to offer a theory."

But the governing Socialist party accused her of exploiting the hostages' return to make an unacceptable slur.

"Mrs Le Pen is so blinded by her hatred of Muslims that she can't even join the rest of the nation in rejoicing at the release of our hostages," party spokesman Eduardo Rihan Cypel said on i>Tele.

The mother of one of the former captives, Pierre Legrand, said the four men had agreed to keep their beards and scarves in a gesture of solidarity with other French hostages still held in the region.

(Writing by Paul Taylor; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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