Racist incident in French parliament triggers condemnation

By SYLVIE CORBET – Associated Press

PARIS (AP) — A black lawmaker in France said on Friday he was “deeply hurt” by a racist remark by a far-right member of the French parliament during a legislative session, a comment that was condemned by all political parties.

Grégoire de Fournas of the far-right National Rally party was heard shouting the words “return to Africa” ​​to his fellow MP as Carlos Martens Bilongo challenged the French government on Thursday over migrants stranded at sea.

Other politicians, including the French president, said they were shocked by de Fournas’ remark, which raised new questions about xenophobia on the far right and in other parts of French society.

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His remarks caused an immediate outcry in the National Assembly, leading the president of the legislative chamber to suspend the session and open an investigation. A meeting of the governing body of the National Assembly has been set for Friday afternoon to discuss possible sanctions.

Due to the uproar and muffled words, it was unclear if de Fournas had said Bilongo should return to Africa or if the migrants should do so.

De Fournas said he was referring to Europe-bound migrants rescued at sea and not, as some understood, his fellow lawmaker.

“I fully stand by my comments on the anarchic migration policies of our country,” he tweeted on Friday.

French anti-racism groups pointed out that in any case the remark echoed the familiar invective that black people were being told to return to Africa, regardless of their place of birth or citizenship.

The French group SOS Racisme called him “the true face of the far right: that of racism”. The group’s president, Dominique Sopo, said that no matter what exactly de Fournas said, “obviously, these are extremely violent comments”.

Speaking on French news channel BFM TV on Friday, Bilongo called for de Fournas to resign.

He said he received thousands of messages following the incident from people telling him they were hearing similar comments in their daily lives. The words “speak to many French people who have felt hurt,” Bilongo said.

Bilongo, a member of the far-left France insoumise, took part in a rally near the National Assembly on Friday called by his party as a sign of support.

“I’m torn between joy and sadness,” Bilongo said. “Because I received many messages of support overnight…because I see all these faces here in solidarity with me.”

Bilongo hailed the immediate angry reaction shown by a large majority of lawmakers from all political backgrounds.

The Movement Against Racism and for Friendship Among Peoples called the remark “revolting”.

“The National Rally remains, despite some efforts to normalize this far-right party, deeply racist and xenophobic,” he said.

The Elysee presidential palace said President Emmanuel Macron was shocked by remarks he deemed “unacceptable inside or outside” the assembly.

French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said he was “extremely shocked”, telling BFM TV it was the first time in 15 years of political life that he had heard such “ignominious” remarks in parliament.

The National Rally is the party of far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who lost her third bid for the French presidency to Macron in April. The ensuing legislative elections led to a major breakthrough for the party, which won 89 seats in the 577-member National Assembly, up from a previous total of eight.

Le Pen tweeted that de Fournas was “obviously talking about migrants being transported by boat by NGOs”.

“The controversy created by our political adversaries is crude and will not deceive the French,” she said.

Over the past decade, Le Pen has sought to make his party more palatable to the mainstream right, working to eliminate the stigma of racism and anti-Semitism that clung to the party under his now ostracized father, Jean – Marie Le Pen.

Members of the National Rally are to meet in Paris on Saturday to choose the new party leader. Le Pen said she plans to focus on leading party lawmakers in the National Assembly.

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