Marine Le Pen's allies soften headscarf policy days before run-off vote

Opinion polls suggest French President Emmanuel Macron is leading before Sunday’s vote

Marine Le Pen, the far-right candidate in the French presidential election, meets voters in the southern commune of Pertuis, near Marseille, on Friday. Reuters
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Supporters of French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen have said a headscarf ban would be introduced gradually if she is elected, as her campaign seeks to win over left-leaning voters before a run-off poll on Sunday.

Louis Aliot, the far-right Mayor of Perpignan, said the ban would be introduced “little by little”, marking a softening of the campaign’s policy.

Ms Le Pen previously described the hijab as an “Islamist uniform” and called for a ban.

"There will be a debate in parliament and then the choice will be made," Mr Aliot told the France Inter radio network.

Another ally of Ms Le Pen, David Rachline, the Mayor of the south-eastern town of Frejus, said on Monday that "we don't want to attack people".

"All those women wearing a hijab are not Islamists," he said.

An estimated five million Muslims live in France, one of the largest populations in western Europe. Public servants are barred from wearing headscarves at work and the garment is banned in schools.

The issue of head coverings has become increasingly prominent on the political agenda before the run-off vote between President Emmanuel Macron and Ms Le Pen, as her right-wing policies come under the spotlight.

She wants to ban the headscarf in public places, with fines to be issued to those who break the rules. She has said the rule could be enforced in a similar way to regulations on wearing a seatbelt in cars.

But on Friday a voter wearing a hijab told Ms Le Pen to “leave the Muslims alone” while she was on the campaign trail.

Ms Le Pen has acknowledged that the issue is a complex one. She said parliament would have its say on the matter and that any unwanted law could be revoked.

Polls show that Mr Macron is the more likely winner of the run-off, but with a slim margin.

On Monday, an Ipsos poll for France Info radio and the newspaper Le Parisien showed Mr Macron leading Ms Le Pen with 56 per cent of the vote, up 0.5 per cent from the day before and 3 per cent from the first round of voting on April 10.

The pair face a potentially crucial public debate on Wednesday. The pair went head to head in 2017, when Mr Macron was considered to be the winner, clearing the way for his first-term victory.

Updated: April 19, 2022, 10:37 AM