France's Le Pen vows to hold referendum on EU if elected

September 3, 2016 8:18 AM EDT

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BRACHAY, France (Reuters) - France's far-right National Front party leader, Marine Le Pen, vowed on Saturday to hold a referendum on whether France stays in or leaves the European Union if she wins the 2017 presidential election.

In her first public meeting after a summer break in the tiny village of Brachay in northeastern France, Le Pen portrayed herself as the sole credible defender of law and order and national unity, saying the best way to combat terrorism was the ballot paper.

"This referendum on France belonging to the European Union, I will do it. Yes it is possible to change things. Look at the Brits, they chose their destiny, they chose independence ... We can again be a free, proud and independent people," she said.

The National Front was the only major French political party to call for Britons to vote to leave the European Union, hoping Brexit would boost its own eurosceptic agenda at home.

Le Pen's increasingly popular party thrives on anti-Europe and anti-immigration sentiment and opinion polls see her making it to an early May run-off in France's presidential election, but losing that second round to a mainstream candidate, as a majority of voters do not want her as president.

Some 700 supporters waving French flags repeatedly cheered the smiling Le Pen on Saturday, with shouts of "Marine, President" during her speech.

After being uncharacteristically quiet since a December regional election where her party won no constituency despite leading in first round, Le Pen slammed her rivals on the right and left of the political spectrum, accusing them of being "responsible" for what she called France's "decline".

The village of Brachay is dear to Le Pen's heart, and she described it as the symbol of France's "forgotten ones" away from the political elites.

It was in Brachay that she managed to secure the greatest percentage vote in any village in the country from among its 60 residents in the 2012 presidential election.

Some 72 percent put the far-right candidate above all others. She has been holding meetings in Brachay each year ever since.

(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Andrew Bolton)



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