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Valls says overseas territories challenge 'outrageous' comments on French identity

Prime Minister Manuel Valls has dismissed Jean-Marie Le Pen's comments that he is less French Reuters/Philippe Wojazer

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls says celebrating the diversity of France’s overseas departments is the “perfect response” to the “outrageous” comments on French identity made by Front National’s Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Valls was speaking Saturday at a conference in Paris on development of overseas territories, where the government outlined development plans for the French departments Guyana on the Caribbean coast of South America and the Indian Ocean island of Mayotte.

In an interview with weekly Rivarol earlier in the week, honorary president and founder of France's far-right Front National Jean-Marie Le Pen launched an attack on Valls, who is of Spanish origin, calling him an “immigrant" and less French than himself.

"Valls has been French for 30 years, I've been French for 1,000 years," he said. “What is Valls's real attachment to France? This immigrant, has he completely changed?"

Le Pen also said in the interview that he has never considered Marshal Philippe Pétain, the head of the government that collaborated with the Nazis in World War II, a traitor.

Le Pen’s daughter and the leader of the party, Marine, condemned his statements and Front National deputy leader Florian Philippot declared that there was a "definitive split" with the party's founder.

Valls dismissed the comments Saturday, saying overseas territories “radiate France”.

"This week I have heard many comments about those who have been French for 30 years or the last 1,000 years. When we look at our overseas departments, this is the perfect response to the comments on this outrageous idea of what identity is in our country,” the prime minister was quoted as saying by the French news agency AFP.

"What better illustration of our country than a gathering of men and women who, beyond their origins, have found common values," he said.

Valls mentioned the strategic plan for the development of Mayotte by 2025 and a “future pact with Guyana that is eagerly awaited."

Rodolphe Alexandre, president of the French Guyana region, told media that a version of the project has a budget of 2.3 billion euros over 20 years to build infrastructure and schools.