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article imageOxford students protest Le Pen family scion

By Pauline FROISSART (AFP)     Jan 22, 2019 in World

Dozens of demonstrators holding up signs reading "no to Nazis" protested against Marion Marechal, tipped as the future leader of France's far right, as she arrived to debate students at a private event in the historic English city of Oxford on Tuesday.

The 29-year-old former French parliament member is the granddaughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder of the anti-migrant National Front party, and the niece of Marine Le Pen, the leader of its successor the National Rally.

Marechal, who has stopped referring to herself as Marechal-Le Pen in an apparent bid to distance herself from her relatives, now heads a political science school in Lyon that aims to raise a new generation of ultra-conservative leaders.

In a speech on Tuesday night at Oxford Union, which is comprised largely of Oxford University students, she compared the "yellow vest" protesters rallying throughout France to Britons who voted to leave the European Union.

"The gilets jaunes (yellow vests) are very similar to your Brexiteers," she told the respectful crowd of around 500 people.

"We are in the middle of a populist movement," she added.

"Behind the word populist there is the word people -- people who have been abandoned, people with no representation."

Her invitation to deliver the speech and debate students at Oxford Union drew protests from local community leaders.

Around 100 people rallied under light snow in the scenic city, some holding up signs reading "Le Pen, never again," and "No to Nazis".

"At a time when the far right is on the rise in Europe, including in the UK, I think this is completely unacceptable," said Oxford Labour party co-chair Rabyah Khan, 30.

"What is very worrying is how the Oxford Union keeps inviting far-right extremists to their events. We had Steve Bannon here recently," she said, referring to the former chief strategist for US President Donald Trump.

Bannon is currently trying to coordinate the efforts of aspiring far-right parties across Europe.

Oxford Union president Daniel Wilkinson said the protesters were welcome to debate Marechal.

"We understand and respect the right to peaceful protest, and we are pleased that people are out speaking their minds," Wilkinson said in a statement.

Some attending Tuesday's demonstration said they came out in support of free speech.

"We just believe in free discourse and debate," said Maya Thomas, whose sign read: "Challenge. Don't silence!"

However most of the protesters were unlikely to have been able to attend Marechal's speech, as it was only open to Oxford Union members.

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