Far-right leader Le Pen calls euro 'the currency of occupation'

Extreme-right presidential candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen stepped up his criticism Friday of the European Union and its symbols, calling the euro "the currency of occupation" in France.

The 78-year-old firebrand, campaigning in his fifth and likely last presidential election, complained that France "no longer is sovereign over our borders, no longer sovereign over our currency."

"The currency of the nation is the franc," Le Pen said on RTL radio, referring to the currency France phased out along with 11 other EU countries on Jan. 1, 2002. The euro, he added, "that's the currency of occupation."

Le Pen has been convicted several times for anti-Semitism and racism, and for his comments on World War II and Nazi Germany's occupation of France. In 1997 he was convicted of contesting crimes against humanity for calling the Nazi gas chambers "a detail" of World War II.

Le Pen stunned the nation in the last presidential election in 2002 by qualifying for the runoff against President Jacques Chirac - ousting then-Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, a Socialist. The first round this year takes place on April 22.

Most polls show Le Pen fourth this year, trailing far behind front-runner Nicolas Sarkozy, a former interior minister from the ruling conservative party; Segolene Royal, a Socialist hoping to become France's first woman president; and third-placed Francois Bayrou, a centrist.

The top two contenders after the first round are to face off in the decisive runoff on May 6, which will set the tone for France after 12 years under President Jacques Chirac, who is not seeking a third term.

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