France's Marine Le Pen begins Russia visit

National Front leader Marine Le Pen. Photo: 22 March 2017Image copyright

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Marine Le Pen has approved Russia’s takeover of Crimea and wants EU sanctions lifted

France’s far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen is in Russia for talks with senior officials.

In Moscow, the National Front (FN) leader will meet Russian MPs, but it is not clear whether she will also hold talks with President Vladimir Putin.

Ms Le Pen favours strong links between France and Russia, and wants the EU to lift sanctions imposed on Moscow over the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

The Kremlin also looks favourably on Ms Le Pen, a BBC correspondent says.

Ms Le Pen’s visit – her fourth to Russia since 2011 – comes ahead of the two rounds of French presidential elections on 23 April and 7 May.

Each time she has been treated in Moscow with the kind of respect that few other capitals are prepared to give her, the BBC’s Hugh Schofield in Paris says.

For populist nationalists like her, President Putin has the appeal of a strong authoritarian leader who puts interests of country ahead of all else, our correspondent adds.

FN Treasurer Wallerand de Saint-Just has said Ms Le Pen’s visit is not a cash-raising exercise, though party members have said they are seeking millions to fund the presidential and later the parliamentary election campaigns, the Associated Press news agency reports.

Recent opinion polls in France put Ms Le Pen neck-and-neck in the first round with centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron, with Mr Macron winning the run-off.

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