Jean-Marie Le Pen
Jean-Marie Le Pen (Reuters)

French Roma and Travellers groups have filed a lawsuit against far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen for calling members of the Roma community "smelly" and "rash-inducing".

The European Roma and Travellers Forum (Ertf), SOS Racisme and the French Union of Travellers Association have joined to launch legal proceedings against Le Pen, founder and former leader of  the far-right National Front party.

Le Pen is accused of "inciting racial hatred" for his comments made in the southern city of Nice when he called Roma "stinging and let's say, stinking".

"I'll give you a prognosis: you have some concerns, it appears, with a few hundred Roma who have a stinging, let's say stinking, presence in the city... that's just the tip of the iceberg," Le Pen said addressing his party members. "I announce that within 2014 around 50,000 Roma will arrive in Nice. Also, from the 1st of January, the 12 million Roma that live in Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary will have the possibility of moving in all the other European countries".   

The Roma forum slammed Le Pen's remarks as "hurtful, insensitive, outrageous and xenophobic" and claimed that they breach French law.

The complaint also denounced remarks by Nice mayor and centre-right UMP deputy Christian Estrosi, according to The Local website. In 5 July, the opposition politician labelled the Roma community "criminals" and proposed tougher measures for dealing with them, notably the use of CCTV camera in the Roma and traveller camps.

The daughter of Jean-Marie, Marine Le Pen - current leader of the National Front - had been stripped of her immunity as a former member of the European Parliament and could face charges of incitement to racial hatred.