PARIS - Toning up her anti-Muslims rhetoric, far-right presidential hopeful Marine Le Pen has claimed that all meat in Paris was halal, a move seen as an effort by the Elysee aspirant to consolidate her support among far-rightists.
"This situation is a real deception and the government has been fully aware of this situation for months," Le Pen told reporters on the sidelines of a weekend congress of her National Front party in the northern city of Lille, Reuters reported Sunday, February 19.
Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front party, said that she had proof that all the meat in Paris was halal.
"All the abattoirs in the Paris region sell halal meat without exception."
The concept of halal -- meaning permissible in Arabic -- has traditionally been applied to food.
Muslims should only eat meat from livestock slaughtered by a sharp knife from their necks, and the name of Allah, the Arabic word for God, must be mentioned.
Now other goods and services can also be certified as halal, including cosmetics, clothing, pharmaceuticals and financial services.
The halal meat claim by Le Pen is seen as an attempt by the far-right candidate to head off incumbent president Nicolas Sarkozy's attempts to lure her supporters.
At one point in January, Le Pen was snapping at the heels of the conservative leader, who announced his bid for re-election earlier last week.
But a BVA poll Friday showed Sarkozy had an 11 point lead over her in the first round of the election on April 22, although Socialist candidate Francois Hollande would still comfortably beat the incumbent in the May 6 runoff.
Focusing on inciting fear on the role of Islam in France, home to up to six million Muslims, Le Pen adopts an anti-immigrant approach to gain public support.
In 2010, Le Pen compared Muslim prayers on the streets to Nazi occupation.
Le Pen's party, founded 40 years ago by her ex-paratrooper father Jean-Marie, is still fuelled by anti-immigrant rhetoric.
Among her ideas for protecting welfare are toughening citizenship requirements, shutting borders and forbidding foreigners from access to any social aid.
Exploiting discontent over globalization and the debt crisis in Europe, Le Pen had sought to attract voters by shifting from a traditional emphasis on immigration and French identity to leaving the euro and imposing protectionist barriers.
Her stance struck a chord, especially among working class voters suffering economic hardship since the start of the global financial crisis.
Le Pen's focus on Muslim issues is seen as an effort by the far-right hopeful to prevent a sudden victory by Sarkozy in the April-May election.
"Nicolas Sarkozy is trying to renew 2007 by encroaching on our turf," Nicolas Bay, Le Pen's adviser on immigration issues, told Reuters.
"That means we have to go on the offensive as we have no intention of letting him do it again."
But most analysts deem Le Pen's economic program as not credible and have questioned the strategy of shifting from the party's core message.
Criticism of her economic policies has provided an opportunity for conservative Sarkozy to poach far-right voters as he did in 2007 when he ran on a strong security and immigration platform.
Bay said it was important that issues such as the halal claim were made public to show how Muslim values were increasingly influencing local policy and endangering France's secular tradition.
Sarkozy has been seen swerving into the far-right by using Muslim issues to win votes from the far-right.
Sarkozy's government has also toughened its message on immigration and in January it trumpeted the deportation of a record number of illegal migrants in 2011.
He has set himself the goal of cutting legal migration to France to 150,000 people a year, having already cut the quota to 180,000 from 200,000 in past years.
Le Pen says the immigration and security policy was mere posturing for electoral gain and that crimes committed by foreigners had risen as the number of immigrants had risen.
The 43-year old former lawyer says immigration costs France as much as 70 billion euros a year and has pledged to reduce the number of immigrants to just 10,000 a year.
"I think in 2007 (Sarkozy) managed to blind side us using our themes because he was able to appear as a new candidate ... and the National Front didn't have the dynamic we have now with Marine Le Pen," Bay said."But now his track record is bad and we have momentum around Marine so it will be difficult for him."