PARIS (AP) — The leader of France's far-right National Front set the tone for her campaign for the French presidency Saturday, calling to fight an Islamist "offensive" and promising to hold a nationwide referendum on European Union membership if she is elected next spring.
At a rally in a small eastern village, Marine Le Pen focused on her favorite issues, such as national sovereignty, immigration control, Islamism and what she calls "savage globalization."
The far-right candidate for the April-May election pledged to back the "France of the forgotten, the abandoned and the voiceless."
Le Pen, who announced her presidential bid months ago, delivered her annual speech in Brachay, a hamlet of a few dozen inhabitants and the French municipality where she symbolically won the largest share of votes in the last election.
Along with the economy, the relationship between France's Muslims and non-Muslims has been a recurring theme as presidential hopefuls have kicked off their campaigns. Le Pen claimed she was right before all other presidential hopefuls because her traditional issues are now at the center of the political debate and have found a "considerable resonance" among French voters.
Some politicians on the left say she is using the issue to encourage racism in France, yet polls suggest that she is increasingly likely to make it to the runoff in the presidential election.
Following the British precedent, Le Pen promised to hold a nationwide referendum on whether France should leave or remain in the European Union if she is elected president.
"I will do it in France," she said and hailed the British who had "the courage to choose their destiny" by voting to leave the EU.
Referring to the controversy over local French bans on the burkini swimwear, she denounced a "relegation of women behind fabrics" and said that women should have the same right as men "to enjoy the French way of life on the beach and at school, in the street and at work."
She said she fears "dress segregation" will eventually pave the way for a "physical and legal" relegation of women. "When are we going to have a ban on makeup? Then a ban (for women) to appear in public?" she asked.
The National Front leader also accused former French conservative president Nicolas Sarkozy, one of her potential presidential opponents, of pledging allegiance to a hard-line branch of Islam after he reportedly met the Saudi King in Morocco last month.
Le Pen branded the rise of Islamic fundamentalism as the "new totalitarianism of the 21st century" and suggested terrorists were hiding among migrants.
"The best weapon against terrorism is the ballot," she said.
Since January 2015, Islamic State group-inspired attackers have killed at least 235 people in France. French citizens or French-speaking residents have committed the overwhelming majority of strikes, often employing suicide tactics alongside command of their home surroundings.