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Le Pen 'succeeds' father at helm of France's far right

Text by Marc DAOU , reporting from Tours, France

Latest update : 2011-01-16

Early results suggest Marine Le Pen (pictured) has been elected to lead France's National Front as her father steps down after close to four decades at the helm of one of Europe's most powerful far-right parties.

Jean-Marie Le Pen's succession at the helm of France's National Front (FN) turned into the party's worst-kept secret Saturday as news of his daughter's victory broke before the start of a key congress in Tours.

If confirmed, Marine Le Pen's comfortable election will come as no surprise. The 42-year-old European Parliament member had always been the hot favourite to succeed her father at the helm of one of Europe's most powerful, and feared, far-right parties.

As party members gathered at Tours' Palais des Congrès, supporters of Marine Le Pen scarcely concealed their satisfaction at the news.

"Marine's election is good news not only for our party but for France as well", David Rachline, the head of the party's youth movement, the FNJ, told "She is a passionate leader and has set in motion a dynamic that can finally lead our party to victory".

Annik Houyez-Mauriez, a long-time FN activist, was also enthusiastic about Marine Le Pen’s election. “Marine Le Pen has the soul of a leader, I am certain she will work to spread the National Front's message", Houyez-Mauriez said, claiming that the scion of the Le Pen family had already "begun pulling together the French people around her project".

According to French daily Le Figaro, Marine Le Pen defeated her rival Bruno Gollnisch with 67 percent of ballots cast by party members. Official results will be announced on Sunday.

Le Pen senior steps aside

Marine Le Pen, a twice-divorced mother of three, has been described as a more modern face for the party. But her recent remarks comparing French Muslims praying in the street to the Nazi occupation of France have offered an ominous reminder that the party’s core ideas are unlikely to change any time soon.

For the roughly 1,500 protesters who gathered outside the congress hall to voice their opposition to the Le Pen brand, the party most certainly remains a threat.

Organisers say "several hundreds of journalists" are attending the congress, which has attracted widespread attention because of Jean-Marie Le Pen's departure. After 38 years at the party's helm and five failed presidential bids, the notorious far-right leader has finally called it a day.

Addressing the packed congress hall, the outgoing leader congratulated party members for the "dignified" campaign and election to succeed him – the first such poll since he founded the party almost four decades ago.

Le Pen, 82, also seized the chance for a swipe at the country's mainstream parties. "Unlike the Socialist Party we don't stuff ballot boxes, nor do we carry out arbitrary nominations like the UMP [party of French President Nicolas Sarkozy]," he said.

True to form, the man who once described Nazi gas chambers as a "detail of history" embarked on a fiery speech during which he blamed “immigration, [excessive] taxation, Europe and the free market” for corrupting French society. Touching on one of the party’s favourite scapegoats, he warned against the threat of Islam, “a conquering religion” which he accused of seeking to “impose Sharia law in France”.

Le Pen reminded the audience that his was a "farewell to the presidency, but not a final farewell", adding that he was confident his successor would carry the party to power.



Date created : 2011-01-15


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