- - Sunday, May 1, 2011


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.


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.


Coalition partners clash over electoral reform

LONDON | Britain’s first coalition government in 65 years will last until 2015 despite rising tension between the ruling parties over this week’s referendum on voting reform, Prime Minister David Cameron said Sunday.

In a sign that the year-old coalition intends to see out its five-year term, the parties are discussing policies to put forward in the second half of that period, said a spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, junior partners to Mr. Cameron’s Conservatives.

Bitter exchanges between the two parties over proposed changes to Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system could cause lasting damage to the coalition, some commentators say.

The center-left Liberal Democrats have championed Thursday’s referendum on a switch to the alternative vote as a chance to make the voting system more favorable to smaller parties, but their larger center-right Conservative partners oppose it.

Mr. Cameron and Liberal Democrats leader Nick Clegg insisted that the coalition, which has imposed sweeping cuts intended to virtually wipe out Britain’s record peacetime budget deficit over four years, would remain intact until 2015.

“We always knew this would be a moment of difficulty for the coalition. … We will demonstrate that it is possible to continue a strong and effective coalition government in the national interest for five years,” Mr. Cameron told the BBC.

Mr. Clegg, the deputy prime minister, told the broadcaster that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats would continue to “work together in harness for the national good” for five years, as planned.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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