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French Court Lightens Sentence Against Lepen

A French appeals court has reduced a ban preventing National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen from holding public office to one year.

But the combative extreme-right politician said he would try to have the ruling overturned by the country’s Supreme Court.

An appeal to the high court means that Le Pen’s sentence, which includes a three-month suspended jail term, would be put off until the court rules — most likely not for another year — and would allow him to lead the National Front ticket in next June’s elections for the European Parliament.

The leader of the xenophobic party had been convicted by a lower court last April of assaulting Socialist Party candidate Anne Peulvast, whom Le Pen’s daughter Caroline challenged in last year’s legislative elections. Peulvast went on to win the election.

The lower court had imposed a two-year ban on holding office and a $3,600 fine.

Besides shortening the ban on holding office, the appeals court also reduced the fine to $900, ruling that the burly former paratrooper had not insulted Peulvast during the tussle in the northern Paris suburb of Mantes la Jolie, where Peulvast is mayor.

Le Pen slammed the appeals court ruling as “slimy, hateful and scandalous,” and said it had been orchestrated by the left-wing government in power.

“This decision goes against the facts, law and justice,” he said from Strasbourg, where he already holds a seat in the European Parliament.

“It is going to bring me more sympathy and support in the next elections,” he said.

By appealing to the Supreme Court, Le Pen is also avoiding a power clash — for the moment — with his deputy, Bruno Megret, over his future leadership of the National Front, which regularly wins 15 percent of the nationwide vote.

Le Pen, 70, had initially said that he planned to have his wife, Jany, lead the party list in the European poll if a sentence prevented him from running, an option that a number of National Front politicians have chosen when they have been banned from office.

But Megret had publicly affirmed that putting Jany Le Pen at the top of the ticket was “a bad idea” and the role should be his, launching the first public challenge to Le Pen’s leadership since he founded the party in 1972.

Even if the Supreme Court upholds the ruling, Le Pen would still be able to run in the next presidential election, scheduled for 2002.

But Le Pen’s legal troubles, which date back to the 1960s, are far from over.

He still faces charges in Germany for trivializing the Holocaust, an offense known there as the “Auschwitz lie.”

German prosecutors are seeking to put Le Pen on trial for repeating last December in Munich that the murder of 6 million Jews was a “mere detail” of the history of World War II.

The European Parliament voted by an overwhelming majority to lift his immunity last month, opening the way for a trial in Germany that could lead to five years in prison and a heavy fine.

In 1991, Le Pen was fined $200,000 by a French court for saying the same thing about Hitler’s gas chambers.

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