April 4, 2007 / 11:41 AM / 12 years ago

France's Le Pen says all races are not equal

PARIS (Reuters) - French far-right presidential candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen, in a bid to reclaim his extremist political credentials, has said all races are not equal in a hard-hitting interview published on Wednesday.

Le Pen has recently tried to shed his racist image to win over new voters ahead of the first round election on April 22.

But he has failed to secure a major breakthrough as other candidates have hardened their own proposals on immigration and security, reaching out to his traditional electorate.

In an interview with Le Monde newspaper, Le Pen appeared to revert to his previous outspoken form.

“An old person is not equal to a young person, a person with one leg is not a star dancer. You can’t dispute the inequality of the races, which have I have shown when I say that it is obvious that blacks are much better than whites at running but whites are better at swimming,” he said.

Le Pen denies being a racist, but he was convicted and fined for inciting racial hatred in 1990.

He shocked France in the 2002 presidential election by finishing second as his hardline anti-immigration proposals struck a chord with voters tired of the political elite.

This time around, mainstream conservative candidate Nicolas Sarkozy, the poll leader, has deliberately courted Le Pen’s voters by taking a tough line on immigration and crime.

Socialist Segolene Royal, now lying second in the polls, has surprised her party by stressing law and order issues, and by presenting herself as the mother of the nation, calling on every French family to wave the flag on public holidays.

According to the polls, Le Pen is stuck in fourth place behind centrist Francois Bayrou, but he seemed to get a boost from clashes between police and youths, many of immigrant origin, at a Paris train station last week.

The violence allowed him to make a link with 2005 riots by youths in poor suburbs housing largely immigrant populations.

Le Pen told Le Monde the 2005 troublemakers represented 0.5 percent of the population.

“And the rest, 99.5 percent, suffer,” he said.

He repeated his mantra that the solution to the problems in the suburbs was “zero immigration.”

“We do not solve the problems of the suburbs by sending in the riot police and tanks,” he said.

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