Headscarf row dominates Le Pen's Lebanon visit

During her two-day visit, Le Pen was also to meet the Christian Maronite patriarch.

Despite that, she was received by Hariri, a Sunni, as well as by Lebanese president Michel Aoun and foreign minister Gibran Bassil, both Hezbollah-aligned Maronites.

Ahead of the scheduled meeting with the Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul-Latif Derian in Beruit, Le Pen was asked to don a veil.

Shortly after she arrived at his office Tuesday morning, one of his aides handed her out a white headscarf to put on.

"The highest Sunni authority in the world had not had this requirement, so I have no reason to", Ms Le Pen said, referring to a 2015 visit to Al-Azhar, the prestigious Egyptian institution of Sunni Islamic learning.

Nonetheless, Macron - who hopes to defeat far-right candidate Marine Le Pen and conservative candidate Francois Fillon - expects France to benefit from talent migrating across the Channel. She also said the best way to protect minority Christians is to "eradicate" the Islamic State group preying on them - not turn them into refugees.

The prime minister also said that "it would be a big and serious error to link Islam and Muslims on the one hand and terrorism on the other".

Although polls show that the lion's share of Bayrou's supporters flow to Macron without his presence in the race, with the rest going to Fillon and Le Pen, Macron's standing has remained unchanged regardless of whether or not Bayrou is in the race or not.

The trip represents the first major foray into foreign policy for Le Pen, a leading candidate in France's April 23 and May 7 election.

Le Pen's comments provoked criticism on the issue of her support for Assad.

However, on Tuesday, in an interview with the French-language Lebanese paper L'Orient-Le Jour, Marine Le Pen appeared to back down from what has actually been part of her party's platform for years.

French law now bans headscarves for high school pupils and those in public service.

She was later defended by Swedish Interior Minister Anders Ygeman who told Anadolu Agency: "It's quite humane of Linde and other female officials to wear headscarves during an official visit to Iran".

"The mufti's office regrets this inappropriate behaviour in such meetings".

She has previously said she would ban all religious symbols in public.

Some reports in the French media suggested the incident may have been premeditated in order to boost Le Pen's appeal in the presidential election.

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