PARIS — Thousands of people shouting "No to fascism!" demonstrated outside the National Assembly on Thursday to protest comments by Jean-Marie Le Pen, the far-right presidential candidate who said the Nazi gas chambers were a "minor point" in World War II history.
The demonstration was attended by leaders of both the left and the right, including former Socialist Premier Laurent Fabius. Protesters called on assembly deputies to lift Le Pen's parliamentary immunity to allow criminal charges to be filed against him for his remarks Sunday in a television interview.
The groundswell of protests against Le Pen continued to pick up steam Thursday as six associations composed of people deported to Nazi camps filed a civil defamation suit against him in a court in Nanterre in western France.
The suit, according to the Movement Against Racism group, said Le Pen's remarks were "harmful to the survivors of racial persecution and deportation and outrageous for the memory of the victims."
The suit asks for one franc in damages and that portions of the judgment be read over the radio station RTL.
Le Pen said Sunday that the Nazi gas chambers were a "minor point" in history and that in any case, whether they actually existed is still a subject of debate among historians.
It was the most controversial gaffe made to date by Le Pen, the fiery leader of the far-right National Front party, whose presidential campaign is based on a platform of reducing the number of Arab immigrants in France.
The remark is starting to have major implications for the center-right's attempt to take the presidency away from the Socialists next spring.
The Socialists stepped up their pressure on the center-right parties to break up regional coalitions they had formed with Le Pen's party. Former Premier Pierre Mauroy announced plans for a "large anti-pollution, anti-Le Pen campaign" throughout France.
A National Front leader, Philippe Sauvagnac of the department of Meuse in northeastern France, announced his resignation from the party, saying he "never believed Le Pen would go this far." National Front officials, however, said Sauvagnac had announced his resignation last July.
Le Pen supporters said Le Pen will respond to the criticism today in an address to the National Assembly.