Paris (AFP) -
France's National Assembly voted Friday to sanction a far-right MP with a rare 15-day suspension and pay cut after he yelled 'back to Africa' at a black colleague, a clash that drew outrage across the political spectrum.
Gregoire de Fournas, a newly-elected member of the National Rally, has denied any personal racist attack in the outburst, saying he was referring to a ship carrying rescued migrants in the Mediterranean.
The penalty urged by the council of the lower-house National Assembly is the harshest possible under its rules, which broadly uphold free speech for MPs while in session.
It was only the second time in the history of France's Fifth Republic, established by Charles de Gaulle in 1958, that an MP had received such a rebuke.
The incident came as President Emmanuel Macron's government is promising a new crackdown on immigration amid accusations of failing to stem new arrivals or deport those whose residency requests are denied.
Carlos Martens Bilongo of the leftist France Unbowed party (LFI) was questioning the government Thursday on the request by the SOS Mediterranee NGO for Paris's help in finding a port for the ship that rescued 234 migrants at sea in recent days.
'It should go back to Africa!' interrupted Gregoire de Fournas, a newly elected member of the far-right, anti-immigration National Rally (RN).
But in French, pronunciation is the same for the pronouns 'it' and 'he', which suggested that de Fournas was targeting Bilongo directly.
The RN is the party of far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who backed her MP on Twitter by saying 'the controversy created by our political opponents is obvious and will not fool the French people'.
Le Pen challenged President Emmanuel Macron in this year's presidential vote and then led her party to its best-ever performance in subsequent legislative elections, with 89 MPs.
The party was founded by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen but his daughter claims to have overhauled the former National Front into a mainstream force. Critics argue the changes are only cosmetic and that it remains inherently racist.