European Parliament lifts Le Pen immunity over gruesome tweets
The European Parliament has voted to lift French far-right leader Marine Le Pen's immunity from prosecution for tweeting gruesome images of violence.
The legislature voted by a broad majority in Brussels to clear the way for the possible prosecution of Ms Le Pen over tweets she made in December 2015 showing executions, including the killing of American reporter James Foley by Islamic State extremists.
French prosecutors in the city of Nanterre had asked for the lifting of the immunity that Ms Le Pen enjoys as a member of the European Parliament after they opened a preliminary investigation.
Ms Le Pen, a leading candidate in this year's French presidential election, posted her tweets in response to a journalist who drew an analogy between her anti-immigration National Front party and IS extremists.
She was trying to show the difference between the two groups but the effort backfired, drawing widespread condemnation.
Ms Le Pen took down the tweet showing the killing of Mr Foley after his family protested, but left up another image of violence by IS extremists.
Under French law, publishing violent images can carry a penalty of three years in jail and a fine of 75,000 euro (£64,000).
Before her immunity was lifted, Ms Le Pen on Thursday defended her tweets, saying she just wanted to condemn the barbaric practices of IS, also known as Daesh.
"I'm a lawmaker. I'm in my role when I condemn Daesh, this is my role," she told French TV station LCP.
"And if I don't fulfil my role, I'm worth nothing as a lawmaker. Nobody can prevent a republic's representative from condemning Daesh's acts of violence."
The lifting of Ms Le Pen's immunity does not relate to another corruption case centred on her aide at the European Parliament, suspected of being paid from EU money while working on her behalf.
Ms Le Pen's chief of staff, Catherine Griset, was handed a preliminary charge of receiving money through a breach of trust.
The campaign for the election to replace unpopular Socialist President Francois Hollande has been rocked by corruption allegations targeting another top contender, conservative candidate Francois Fillon.
Mr Fillon, a former prime minister and once the front-runner in France's two-round April-May presidential election, announced on Wednesday that he was summoned to appear before judges on March 15 for allegedly using taxpayers' money to pay family members for jobs that may not have existed.
He has vowed to stay in the race, however.
Mr Fillon's troubles have benefited centrist independent candidate Emmanuel Macron, who on Thursday announced his policy platform, including boosting European unity and combating populism and corruption.