PARIS (AFP) - The controversial founder of France's National Front (FN), Jean-Marie Le Pen, said Monday he feared the country electing a "President Mustafa" in 2017 after the party's drubbing in regional elections.
The 87-year-old firebrand blamed the FN's failure to win a single region on the fact that its opponents rallied Muslim supporters, particularly around the southern city of Marseille where his 26-year-old granddaughter Marion Marechal-Le Pen was campaigning.
"We saw a massive intervention by voters from the estates who didn't vote in the first round, and who were mobilised," he claimed.
"I don't want to find ourselves in 2017... with a government of President Mustafa," he said, repeating one of his common refrains that France could be heading for a Muslim-led government.
France's secular laws forbid counting people based on their religion, but private polling firms have estimated the number of Muslims at between three and 5.8 per cent.
The top figure would mean there are around 3.8 million Muslims in the country of 66 million people.
The government says there are 4-5 million Muslims, but this figure is based only on their family's country of origin, and only a third are thought to be practising Muslims.
Nonetheless, fears that Muslims might win control of the French government have grown among the far-right in recent years.
The elder Le Pen referred to a best-selling fictional book by author Michel Houellebecq, published earlier this year, that imagined a Muslim president taking power in 2022.
Le Pen's refusal to temper his controversial outbursts saw him booted out of the FN earlier this year by his own daughter, Marine Le Pen, who now leads the party.
Marine's attempts to "de-demonise" the party's image by purging some of the more nakedly xenophobic and anti-Semitic elements have been frequently undermined by her father.
Earlier this year, she described his comments - particularly those downplaying the seriousness of the Holocaust - as "political suicide".