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France's Le Pen attacks Qatar, fears Islamist threat

PARIS (Reuters) - Far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen said on Friday that Qatar’s influence on French Muslims was growing and, if elected, she would try to protect France from the threat of Islamist movements in North Africa.

Marine Le Pen France's National Front head and candidate for 2012 French president election leaves a gathering celebrating the 600th anniversary of Joan of Arc's birth in Paris January 7, 2012. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

The National Front leader, who is running third in opinion polls, is narrowing the gap with incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist frontrunner Francois Hollande, and two polls this week showed more than 20 percent of voters would back her in the first round of the presidential contest on April 22.

Exploiting discontent over globalisation and the debt crisis in Europe, Le Pen has sought to lure voters by shifting from a traditional emphasis on immigration issues and French identity to leaving the euro and imposing protectionist barriers.

However, she was on familiar ground on Friday, saying that where new Islamist governments were concerned, her foreign policy would be to stop their influence spreading to France’s 5 million Muslims.

“As a future president, I would ensure that these Islamist governments cannot come and support political religious movements in France that would destabilise our country,” she told foreign reporters in Paris.

Since pro-democracy demonstrations began a year ago across the Arab world, Islamist politicians have come to power in Tunisia and Morocco and look set to win elections in Egypt.

Le Pen said Arab nations had the right to choose Islamist leaders if they wanted to, and she would defend their national sovereignty if elected, just as she would defend French sovereignty.

But she said she feared the influence of Islamist countries, and that of Qatar which was using its financial strength to adopt contradictory positions.

“I think Qatar has come to the aid of Islamist groups and yet it presents itself as enlightened to Western democracies,” she said.

Qatar, a tiny peninsula jutting into the Gulf, has raised its diplomatic profile, gaining international attention with mediation attempts in numerous regional conflicts.

Doha played a major role in removing Muammar Gaddafi from power in Libya by giving financial aid and weapons to his opponents, and has been a leading force in the Arab League’s deployment of monitors to Syria, where the United Nations says more than 5,000 people have been killed in a 10-month uprising.

The world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas, Qatar set up a 50 million euro fund in December to invest in Muslim suburbs in French cities, a move Le Pen said was worrying.

“We are allowing a foreign country to choose its investments on the basis of the religion of this or that part of the population,” she said. “I think that could be dangerous.”

The Qataris have also invested widely in France including buying stakes in Lagardere and, most recently, taking control of football club Paris St Germain.

“It bothers me that Qatar bought PSG,” Le Pen said.

Reporting By John Irish; Editing by Tim Pearce