The French Parliament shaken by the explosion of the “return to Africa” ​​of a far-right deputy

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In an extremely rare move, a far-right French lawmaker was suspended from parliament on Friday for shouting “go back to Africa” ​​as a black colleague spoke about migrants.

The remarks, which paralyzed parliament on Thursday, sparked outrage against racism and sparked a wave of condemnation.

Carlos Martens Bilongo, a 31-year-old black deputy who represents a district north of Paris, was addressing the National Assembly, or lower house, speaking about migrants stranded at sea, when another deputy, Grégoire de Fournas, 37 years, interrupted him and shouted that someone should “go back to Africa!”

Thursday’s outburst troubled the session, not least because the pronouns “he” and “they” are pronounced the same in French, making it possible that de Fournas’ comment may have been aimed at his fellow lawmaker. An official’s jaw dropped. Others stood up and started shouting, before the leader of the assembly quickly adjourned the session.

Sticking to the longstanding anti-immigration rhetoric of his National Rally party, de Fournas later said he was referring to migrants, not his colleague. But critics found it no less offensive, and many saw it as an insult hurled in the legislative chamber at an MP.

A Paris-born teacher, Bilongo said in a statement that de Fournas’ explanation did not justify the remark. “Has racism become so commonplace that this sentence has become acceptable? he wrote.

“I did not think that I would be insulted in the National Assembly today”, Bilongo Told journalists. “They insulted me and all the people in France who have this skin color.”

On Friday, the deputies approved the suspension of de Fournas for 15 days of parliamentary debates and the withholding of half of his indemnity for two months. It is only the second time in recent French history that such a disciplinary measure has been adopted.

“This sanction is the most severe provided for by our rules of procedure”, declared the president of the Parliament Yaël Braun-Pivet, calling for “dignity” in the debates to come.

Lawmakers from French President Emmanuel Macron’s party were quick to condemn the incident, describing as “scandalous” and pledge not to sit in the lower house unless de Fournas received a “heavy sentence”.

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De Fournas said on Friday that he would respect the decision to suspend it. But he criticized the decision as unfair, to accuse his opponents of “manipulation” and reaffirming his party’s position against the arrival of migrants. He told reporters that his comment about returning to Africa referred to a boat carrying 234 migrants. The aid agency that rescued them at sea is attractive European governments to find them a port of disembarkation as the weather deteriorates.

The leader of the National Rally Marine Le Pen, who challenged Macron in the French elections this year, defended de Fournas, tweeting that the outrage was “created by our political adversaries”.

Her opponents have touted her party’s reactions to the outbreak in parliament this week as a testament to her xenophobic roots as she seeks to bring the far right into mainstream politics.

Le Pen led his party to its best performance in the June legislative elections, working to moderate its image and focus on issues such as cost of living increase and record inflation in Europe. Those gains, and Macron’s loss of an absolute majority in parliament, complicate his second term at a time when voters are increasingly divided.

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