French far right’s feuding Le Pens organise rival May 1 rallies
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France’s far-right National Front party has shifted its annual May 1 gathering from its usual spot at a statue of Joan of Arc in central Paris to another location, citing a terrorist threat.
Jean-Marie Le Pen, the firebrand founder of the National Front (FN), has organised his own rally at the traditional spot in defiance of his daughter Marine's decision to host the event elsewhere in Paris.
The annual FN gathering has taken place every year since 1988 at the gilded bronze statue of French heroine Joan of Arc (who was burned at the stake for heresy by the English in 1431) on Rue de Rivoli next to the Louvre Museum.
But this year, prompted by jihadist threats to the “idolatrous” annual gathering of anti-European and anti-immigration FN supporters, the venue has been shifted to another statue of Joan of Arc, this time at Saint Augustin, less than two kilometers away.
The nature of Sunday’s official rally has also changed. The Rivoli gathering traditionally sees FN supporters marching to nearby Opéra after speeches by party leaders.
This year, however, the event at Saint Augustin will be a stationary “patriotic banquet” in the shadow of St Joan (she was canonized in 1920).
“Daesh [Islamic State group] has directly threatened the FN,” said party lawmaker Gilber Collard in reference to a recently-published article in a jihadist magazine that described the FN rally as a “prime target”. “We do not want to risk the safety of our militants.”
But it wasn’t just safety issues that caused the change in venue. In 2015, Jean-Marie le Pen was removed from the list of speakers at the May 1 event, but appeared on stage anyway in chaotic scenes that many saw as a purposeful attempt to undermine his daughter’s legitimacy.
"I think that was a malicious act, I think it was an act of contempt towards me," Marine Le Pen, who took over the party leadership in 2011, told French radio after the event.
"I get the feeling that he can't stand that the National Front continues to exist when he no longer heads it," she said.
Bellicose words and actions
Indeed, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has been convicted for making anti-Semitic comments, inciting racial hatred and for Holocaust denial, has become a growing problem for the FN as it tries to move its public image away from the overt racism and anti-Semitism of its beginnings.
Jean-Marie Le Pen has not been invited to the “patriotic banquet”. He told Metronews he wouldn’t deign to go to what will be a tightly-controlled and watered-down rally, even if he was invited.
Instead, he has prepared a 40-minute speech that he will deliver to die-hard supporters at the Joan of Arc statue on Rue de Rivoli.
“I want to maintain this FN tradition started 28 years ago,” he told Metronews, referring to his daughter as “Madame Le Pen” who had “broken the tradition of marching from the statue of Joan of Arc, supposedly because of a Daesh threat”.
“I haven’t been invited [to the patriotic banquet] and I wouldn’t want to go,” he said.
“Despite this, what I desire, and what will be the subject of my speech on Sunday, is for the FN to unite ahead of the (presidential and legislative) elections of 2017,” added the man whose bellicose words and actions have done more to divide the party he founded than any other.