Lebanon rolls out red carpet for French far-right leader
The far-right French leader Marine Le Pen has arrived in Beirut to meet with the Lebanese head of state and leading Christian figures.
Shunned by many European leaders over her party's stance on immigration and anti-EU message, Le Pen's meeting with President Michel Aoun in Beirut is designed to add to her international credibility.
Le Pen will also meet Prime Minister Saad Hariri, an opponent of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Le Pen has criticised the EU's calls for Assad to stand down after nearly seven years of war.
|Le Pen has met few foreign leaders since taking control of the National Front in 2011|
France had mandate power over Lebanon and neighbouring Syria during the first half of last century, and ties between the countries have remained close. Lebanon's Christians have long looked to France for security against the Middle East’s turmoil.
Rival presidential hopeful and former economy minister Emmanuel Macron visited Beirut on January 24, where he met both Aoun and Hariri.
While he did not call for an alliance with Assad, Macron advocated a"balanced policy" towards the regime and the myriad rebels fighting it.
Right-wing candidate Francois Fillon, dogged by revelations his wife was paid for years with public funds for a suspected fake job as a parliamentary aide, cancelled a visit this month to Lebanon and Iraq.
Le Pen has met few foreign leaders since taking control of the National Front in 2011: She met no high-ranking Canadian politicians in a visit to Quebec last year, and Chancellor Angela Merkel refused to meet with her during a gathering of eurosceptic and far-right leaders in Germany last month.
And Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy told AFP last week that "a victory of the populists would be the end of Europe", a clear reference to Le Pen's call for a referendum on France's EU membership.
But although this would be Le Pen's first official visit with a head of state, a source in her party said it was not the first time she had met a foreign leader, while not elaborating further as to who she might previously have seen less formally.