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Split looms in French far right as Marine Le Pen’s key aide quits

Patrick Hertzog, AFP | France's National Front president Marine Le Pen (C) and FN vice-president Florian Philippot (R) on January 18, 2017 in Forbach, eastern France.

Florian Philippot, for many years the closest aide of French far-right politician Marine Le Pen, said on Thursday he was quitting the National Front party, opening up a likely split in the country’s far-right ranks.

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Philippot, whose responsibilities for strategy and communications were earlier removed by Le Pen, told France 2 television that he did not like being “ridiculed”.

"They told me that I was vice-president of nothing," he said. "Listen, I don't have a desire to be ridiculed. I have never had the desire to do nothing, so of course I am quitting the National Front."

EN NW SOT Florian Philippot quitting FN 21092017 14:38

Philippot’s departure is a big blow for the far-right as it struggles to portray itself as the main opposition to President Emmanuel Macron.

After Philippot’s announcement Thursday, the leader of the National Front said she was ‘sad’ about his decision.

“It's sad to witness such a waste, but unfortunately, since this is how he wanted things, it can’t be stopped,” Le Pen told Le Figaro. “There were many attempts to reason with him, but they were always rejected.”

“The National Front is in a period of crisis,” RFI’s political editor Philip Turle told FRANCE 24. “Marine Le Pen’s tenure is no longer assured.”

Philip Turle on Philippot quitting National Front

Cracks have been appearing ever since the party’s election defeat earlier this year. After the National Front lost to centrist president Emmanuel Macron, Philippot started his own group ‘The Patriots’. His movement fast became a source of tension but when Marine Le Pen asked Philippot to leave it, he refused.

Philippot wanted to steer the party away from its traditional anti-immigration focus towards economic nationalism. His rivals in the National Front blame him for turning off many voters by pushing France to quit the European Union and leave the eurozone.

But Marine Le Pen appears not to want to soften her party's stance on the issue.

"National sovereignty is a mainstay of our struggle," she told LCP television on Thursday morning. "We will continue to fight the European Union with all our soul because it is an instrument for the elimination and impoverishment of our people."

The firing earlier this month of regional official Sophie Montel, a close friend of Philippot, set off more sparks. Montel was a vice president of Philippot’s association. Shortly before she was fired, Montel said that the party was "re-toxifying".

Party officials believe the rift between leading party figures over policy has drawn supporters to other parties, including to the far-left party of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who is emerging as the main opposition.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS and AP)

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