Macron, Le Pen clash on Russia, Muslim headscarf ban at French presidential debate

2022-04-21 18:56:24
Macron, Le Pen clash on Russia, Muslim headscarf ban at French presidential debate

French President Emmanuel Macron and far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen have gone head-to-head in their only televised debate over Muslim women scarves, ties with Russia, and economic policy.

In the almost three-hour televised debate on Wednesday, one of the most pointed clashes came on the issue of Muslim head scarves. Le Pen confirmed that she stood by her controversial idea of banning the headscarf, which she called “a uniform imposed by Islamists.”

She said women had to be liberated from “Islamist pressure.” Le Pen claims she is not anti-Islam but “opposed to the Islamist ideology.”

Macron objected it was wrong to mix Islam with Islamism. He said Le Pen’s policy would lead to “civil war” in France, which has the largest Muslim population in Western Europe, and would be a betrayal of French values. “It makes no sense. It is confusing all the problems; confusing Islam with Islamism,” he said.

She then spoke about another of her key policies, immigration, promising a referendum on who should stay and who should leave France and condemning what she called “anarchic and massive immigration,” which she said has contributed to a sense of insecurity.

They also clashed bitterly over relations with Russia and economic policy, making the election virtually a rematch of the 2017 contest. The pair will once again face off in the second round, this time on April 24.

“When you speak to Russia, you speak to your banker,” Macron said, suggesting that Le Pen would be incapable of defending French interests because “you depend on Russian power” and on the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

The French president was referring to the 9-million-euro ($9.8-million) loan that Le Pen’s party received in 2014 from the First Czech-Russian Bank for the presidential election campaign. The loan is still not repaid, and after the collapse of the bank in 2016, is now owed to a company with ties to the Russian military.

Macron said that because of the debt, Le Pen’s hands would be tied when dealing with Russia.

Le Pen said she had taken Russian money as no French bank would lend to her party and her party is repaying it. She insisted that the loans do not mean she is influenced by Moscow and said “I am a perfectly free woman.”

The clash came just hours after jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny raised the issue of the loan in a Twitter thread, urging voters to back Macron and alleging that Le Pen is too closely linked to Russia.


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