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Le Pen meets Lebanese leader in bid for international credibility

Far-right French presidential hopeful says Lebanon and France have 'fruitful' relationship after meeting with Lebanese president
France's far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen in Baabda, Lebanon, on 20 February (AFP)

France's far-right leader and presidential candidate Marine Le Pen on Monday met a foreign head of state for the first time, holding talks in Beirut with Lebanon's president, Michel Aoun.

"We discussed the long and fruitful friendship between our two countries," the National Front (FN) leader said after her 30-minute encounter with Aoun at the presidential palace in the hilltop suburb of Baabda, the Middle East's only Christian president.

Le Pen, who is leading polls of voter intentions for the first round of France's presidential election on 23 April, said they also discussed the refugee crisis in Lebanon, where more than one million Syrians have fled from conflict.

The FN leader, whose party takes an anti-immigrant stance, called on Sunday for the international community to step up humanitarian aid to keep the refugees in Lebanon.

Shunned by European leaders over her party's stance on immigration and anti-EU message, Le Pen's meeting with Aoun aims to boost her international credibility.

Le Pen is also due to meet Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, an opponent of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

France had mandate power over both Lebanon and Syria during the first half of the 20th century.

Rival presidential hopeful and former economy minister Emmanuel Macron visited Beirut on 24 January, where he met both Aoun and Hariri.

Le Pen has met few top foreign officials since taking control of the FN in 2011. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has refused to meet with her.

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.

Le Pen has aligned herself with the Bashar al-Assad government in Syria together with several far-right entities in Europe who have claimed the Syrian president is a bastion of secularism against Islamic militants and a protector of minorities.

Her visit is a gesture to the "Christians of the Orient", a source from her party was quoted by Lebanon's French daily L'Orient Le Jour as saying on Wednesday.