Marine le Pen facing new problems in French presidential campaign

French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen is facing more troubles, with fresh revelations in an investigation into her European Parliament assistants and criticism from the UN human rights commissioner.

The parliament probe is one of several legal issues hanging over France's spring election, which is shaping up as a major test of growing nationalist sentiment across Europe.

Investigative website Mediapart published excerpts from a European Commission fraud office report that said Ms Le Pen admitted to irregularities in pay cheques for one assistant targeted in the European Parliament probe.

Ms Le Pen acknowledged she settled an accounting problem with the parliament, but insisted: "There was nothing fictitious, no fake jobs or anything like this."

French authorities are separately investigating the parliamentary assistants. The probes centre around suspicions that members of Ms Le Pen's National Front party tricked the European Parliament out of several hundred thousand euros by using legislative aides for the party's political activity while they were on the parliament's payroll.

She reiterated accusations that the investigation is biased because it is led by the European Commission, "and you can imagine that I am not well-regarded by the commission".

Ms Le Pen has used her membership in the European Parliament as a forum to lobby against European unity and the shared euro currency, and reviving French national sovereignty is central to her presidential platform.

Meanwhile, UN high commissioner for human rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, in a blunt speech in Washington, called rising support for Ms Le Pen's nationalist ideas a potential threat to world peace.

Ms Le Pen wrote Zeid an open letter last year in which she criticized international organizations as representing a "global hyperclass ... which scorns peoples, and thus human beings, their diversity and specific riches."

Mr Zeid countered that Ms Le Pen's anti-immigrant party "manifests evident intolerance of diverse customs, beliefs and modes of thought".

He expressed concern that nationalist politicians like Ms Le Pen seem "to feed off the threat of terrorism".

"Can we be so reckless, so stupid, as to risk the future of humanity, simply for the sake of ballots?" he asked.

Francois Fillon

Elsewhere, protesters angry at perceived corruption greeted conservative presidential candidate Francois Fillon by banging on pots on a campaign stop in northern France.

The incident in the town of Tourcoing is the latest hiccup for Mr Fillon's once-dominant campaign.

He is under investigation over allegations that his family members had high-paying but fake parliamentary jobs. Mr Fillon denies wrongdoing.

As he arrived for a security meeting, about left-wing activists shouted "Fillon in prison!" and chanted "We want fake jobs too!", while a small group of Fillon supporters nearby shouted "Fillon, president!"

Riot police stood by but no violence was reported.

Mr Fillon responded: "When you prevent people from campaigning, we're not really in a democracy any more."

- AP

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