After elections in which her anti-EU party gained power in local and regional elections, Le Pen has sought to capitalise on discontent over Socialist president François Hollande’s handling of the economy as well as rising unemployment.
Her speech took aim at Hollande and the former president Nicolas Sarkozy, who is trying to put his conservative UMP party back on track ahead of the 2017 presidential election.
“They have allowed massive immigration to install itself in France. They have unpinned the Islamic fundamentalist grenade,” Le Pen said. “We are right on everything.”
EVERY WOMAN IS A RIOT! Rejoignez-nous! Nous acceptons TOUT LE MONDE.— FEMEN (@Femen_France) May 1, 2015
>>> firstname.lastname@example.org pic.twitter.com/SprmxB3nVf
Before she was able to start her speech to hundreds of National Front (FN) supporters in central Paris, she was twice caught off guard.
Her father Jean-Marie, founder of the party and usually a speaker at the event, unexpectedly took to the podium to cheers despite a party disciplinary procedure against him over his repeated controversial comments about the Second World War.
The 86-year-old former paratrooper trundled off stage without uttering a word and did not wait to listen to his daughter’s speech.
Minutes later, three Femen activists with the slogans “Heil Le Pen” and “Stop Fascism” written on their bare breasts chanted anti-National Front slogans from the balcony of a building overlooking the stage, to boos from the crowd.
“Lots of surprises on this May 1,” a visibly uneasy Le Pen said. “It’s quite a paradox when you call yourself a feminist and try to disturb a tribute to Joan of Arc.”
FN supporters had earlier laid a wreath at a statue of the 15th-century French heroine, who has been seized on by the far right as a nationalist symbol.
After about 10 minutes, four National Front security men seized the protesting women, who were later arrested.
“They will be forced to get dressed,” Le Pen said.
Since succeeding her father as party chief in 2011, Marine has sought to rid the FN of its anti-Semitic image and position it as an anti-immigrant, Eurosceptic force proposing protectionist policies.