PARIS – Far-right presidential candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen, a virulent opponent of immigration, says France should set up camps where illegal aliens would be housed pending deportation.
Speaking Thursday evening on LCI television, Le Pen said illegal immigrants should be placed in "relatively comfortable transit camps" and then expelled.
Le Pen, who faces incumbent Jacques Chirac in a May 5 runoff for the presidency after a surprise second-place showing in the first round of voting last weekend, also spoke out against immigration in other comments.
"What really worries me is that we are being progressively submerged by immense masses from the Third World, and this massive immigration is creating very desocializing conditions," he said on RMC-Info radio.
Le Pen said that with unemployment at about 9 percent, there are not enough jobs to justify allowing immigration. "We don't have enough work for even our own citizens," he said.
Le Pen had toned down his rhetoric during the campaign before Sunday's first-round vote.
Former education minister Claude Allegre reacted angrily to his call for transit camps.
"It's a horror what has been said," Allegre said on France Inter radio. "It's a program that is not yet Nazi, but pre-Nazi."
Since Le Pen qualified for the runoff by winning 16.8 percent of the vote Sunday, beating Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin by less than 1 percentage point, tens of thousands of people have protested every day, condemning his rhetoric and the policies he has called for.
On Thursday, a total of about 350,000 people marched in several cities to condemn Le Pen, who accused Chirac of encouraging the wave of protests against him.
"I don't believe in spontaneity," Le Pen said. He said the protests "have been initiated by Jacques Chirac because he has draped himself in the flag of the Republic by calling, in a way, for popular support — including support in the streets."
Le Pen also criticized what he called the "scandalous interference of prime ministers" from the European Union. His platform has drawn strong reactions from British Prime Minister Tony Blair, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and others.
Chirac is widely expected to win the election.
France's best-known intellectuals, including Bernard-Henri Levy and Andre Glucksman, endorsed Chirac in a statement Thursday in the newspaper Le Monde.
Jewish and Muslim leaders in the southern city of Marseille — where a synagogue was firebombed last month during a wave of anti-Semitic violence blamed largely on Muslims — also united behind Chirac.
A joint statement signed by Grand Rabbi Charles Bismuth and Grand Mufti Soheib Bencheikh called Le Pen "the candidate of hatred and xenophobia" and urged French people to vote for Chirac.