Briefly: Europe

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FRANCE

Marine Le Pen stakes out mainstream in speech

PARIS | French far-right leader Marine Le Pen sought a unifying, presidential tone in a Labor Day speech on Sunday as she tried to bring her party closer to the political mainstream ahead of a general election due in April.

Ms. Le Pen, who took over the National Front from her father in January, has become a threat to President Nicolas Sarkozy’s prospects of re-election in 2012. Many polls show that she would knock out Mr. Sarkozy in the first round of voting.

In an hourlong address, Ms. Le Pen railed against international institutions, the euro currency and a European immigration policy that she criticized as too lax, referring to Tunisian migrants who showed up in Paris last month.

But the telegenic party chief, who has boosted her party’s popularity since taking its helm in January, struck a more conciliatory tone on the domestic front as she called on French people to come together in asserting France’s independence.

“The people of France have started to cast off the chains imprisoning them,” she said, speaking under bright sunshine in front of a golden statue of Joan of Arc in central Paris.

“Whether you are a man or a woman, a hetero- or homosexual, Christian, Jewish or Muslim, believer or nonbeliever, you are first and foremost French,” she said, to cheers from the crowd.

About 3,000 supporters, many of them wearing light-blue T-shirts emblazoned with pro-Le Pen slogans, chanted “Marine for president” and “France, Marine, Freedom” as she took to the stage amid a sea of waving French flags.

SWITZERLAND

Canton votes by hand to keep special tax

GLARUS | Voters in this mountainous eastern region on Sunday decided by a show of hands, in a tradition rooted in the 13th century, to keep a special “flat rate” tax for attracting rich foreigners.

The “Landsgemeinde” annual open-air voting - one of the world’s oldest forms of direct democracy - still occurs in two of Switzerland’s 26 cantons, or states.

The debate over the special tax has ignited controversy across Switzerland, which receives more than a half-billion Swiss francs a year letting foreigners pay a fixed annual sum far below what they would pay in their home countries.

Thousands of wealthy expatriates such as former racing ace Michael Schumacher, singer Tina Turner and Russian tycoon Viktor Vekselberg have enjoyed these deals that most cantons offer.

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