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AP Interview: France's Le Pen says she 'changed everything'

Associated Press logo Associated Press 5/05/2017 By ELAINE GANLEY, Associated Press
French far-right candidate for the presidential elections Marine Le Pen poses after an interview with the Associated Press, Friday, May 5, 2017 in Paris. (AP Photo/Laurent Rebours) © The Associated Press French far-right candidate for the presidential elections Marine Le Pen poses after an interview with the Associated Press, Friday, May 5, 2017 in Paris. (AP Photo/Laurent Rebours)

PARIS — French far-right candidate Marine Le Pen told The Associated Press on Friday that whether or not she wins Sunday's election, she and the populist wave that swept her to the presidential runoff have shaken France's political landscape and a "gigantic political force has been born."

France, she said, will not be the same.

In an interview Friday in her Paris headquarters hours before campaigning closed, Le Pen said there could be "a surprise" in the results of Sunday's runoff even though polls show her trailing by a large margin against independent centrist Emmanuel Macron.

The Sunday election results are being watched throughout Europe and the world to see whether France chooses the nationalist policies of Le Pen and continues the momentum of Britain's Brexit and the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency. Portraits of herself, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Trump stand on the floor outside her office.

Macron, in contrast, represents a pro-European Union, pro-euro outlook and has been endorsed by former U.S. President Barack Obama.

From the political landscape to ideology, French politics have undergone a massive change, Le Pen said. She suggested there's no turning back to the traditional left-right divide that has defined French political life for generations.

"Maybe there is going to be a surprise that will belie opinion polls," she said.

"We moved everything, we have changed everything already. The old traditional parties have all been blackballed. Even if we don't reach our goal, in any event there is a gigantic political force that has been born."

It's a "major political force that has replaced the old parties," she said.

Candidates for the mainstream right, The Republicans, and the governing Socialists were among the nine people eliminated in the April 23 first-round vote. That left Le Pen, 48, and Macron, 39, who formed his own political movement less than a year ago, to contend for the job of chief of state.

Le Pen says she wants to wrench power from the elite and return it to the people of France, the have-nots of globalization.

"The recomposing of French political life is, in any event, en marche (in motion)," she said, using the name of Macron's political movement, "En March."

Macron "participated in the change," she said.

"He is the fusion between the PS (Socialist Party) and the Republicans" on the right," Le Pen said. He is "the system and we are the people."

Le Pen wants to take France out of the European Union and NATO and stop using the euro currency shared by 19 nations. She wants a sovereign nation in charge of itself and its borders — which she sees as a hole in the garden fence that allows immigrants and others to enter.

If elected, Le Pen says she expects to put a referendum to the French people in six to 10 months after negotiations with Brussels: "yes" stay in the EU based on what she obtained or "no" leave the bloc if she comes back empty-handed.

Le Pen, the leader of the anti-immigration National Front party, claims she can reboot France's flagging economy for the benefit of the small folk, not the elite who she claims Macron represents. Win or lose, she says her candidacy and her millions of backers can already claim "a complete ideological victory."

"We have imposed the terms of this election. Everyone has been talking about nationalism," she said. "Our power is such that we have managed to restructure political life. We did a lot, even by standing alone against everyone else. Admit it."

Her aggressive performance this week at the only debate between the two candidates has raised questions about whether Le Pen can be a unifying figure if elected. She said she chose to go on the attack against Macron and his "totally destructive" platform for France because "I was the voice of distress."

"I want most of all to put democracy back in place. ... We must reweave the links among people," she said, contending that Macron would worsen divisions among French voters.

Le Pen refused to explain why she took into her personal entourage some people with past links to a violent student group shot through with anti-Semitism. She defended her team.

Le Pen has worked for years to clean up the racist image of her National Front party to make it voter friendly. But several friends, besides their dubious pasts, are at the center of an alleged party financing scheme.

"I'm taking no risks," Le Pen insisted. "There is no one in my entourage about whom one can reproach anything ... We have to stop this folly."

Even if she loses the election, Le Pen is likely to be a powerful opposition figure in French politics in the June parliamentary election campaign and beyond.

"What can stop me from fighting for my country?" she said simply.

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