Saturday 23 September 2017

Nationalist party leaders congregate for German conference

Marine le Pen answers media questions at a meeting of European Nationalists in Koblenz (AP)
Marine le Pen answers media questions at a meeting of European Nationalists in Koblenz (AP)

French far-right presidential hopeful Marine Le Pen has joined fellow nationalists at a conference in Germany to a show of populist confidence as Europe faces a series of high-stakes national elections.

Populist parties have been surging in polls in Europe and the leaders' mood was celebratory as they came together in support of one another the day after Donald Trump was sworn in as US President following a campaign buoyed by anti-establishment and protectionist themes.

"Yesterday, a new America. Today - hello Koblenz - a new Europe!" Dutch anti-Islam leader Geert Wilders said as he opened his speech in the German city of Koblenz on the banks of the Rhine.

He added: "The people of the west are awakening. They are throwing off the yoke of political correctness.

"This year will be the year of the people ... the year of liberation, the year of the patriotic spring."

Mr Wilders' anti-Islam Party of Freedom could win the largest percentage of votes in the March 15 Dutch parliamentary election.

Ms Le Pen, head of the far-right National Front, is among the top contenders in France's April-May presidential vote.

In September, Frauke Petry's four-year-old Alternative for Germany party hopes to enter the German parliament at the election, riding high on anti-immigrant sentiment that rejects Chancellor Angela Merkel's welcoming policy toward refugees.

The meeting of the Europe of Nations and Freedom group in the European Parliament also featured Matteo Salvini of Italy's conservative Northern League and Harald Vilimsky, general secretary of Austria's right-wing Freedom Party, which last year narrowly failed to win the country's presidency.

Ms Petry said: "Just as Donald Trump in America shows the way out of a dead end, with new prospects - including for (resolving) international conflicts, we want to do that in the coming months and years for Europe."

"We are experiencing the end of one world and the birth of another," Ms Le Pen said in her address to the conference. "We are experiencing the return of nation-states."

She denounced the 28-nation European Union as "a force of sterilisation" and criticised Mrs Merkel - whose name was booed loudly - for allowing in large numbers of migrants.

"Everyone sees that this migration policy is a daily disaster," Ms L e Pen said.

The first "real blow to the old order" was last June's vote in the UK to leave the EU, Ms Le Pen said - followed closely by Mr Trump's election.

"His position on Europe is clear," Ms Le Pen said. "He will not support a system of oppression of the people."

She added that "2016 was the year when the Anglo-Saxon world woke up and 2017, I am sure, will be the year of the awakening of the people of continental Europe."

Mr Wilders said the nationalist parties will not be deterred if they fail immediately to achieve their election aims this year.

"We will win, I'm very confident," he said. "And if we wouldn't, or if we would not win, all of us, the genie will not go back into the bottle."

Left-wing protesters staged a sit-in outside the hall, shouting slogans like "No border, no nation, stop deportation".

AP

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