PARIS (AP) — The leader of France's far-right National Front launched an all-out offensive Wednesday against her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, opposing his candidacy in upcoming elections and entering into an open war with the man who helped found the party more than four decades ago.
Marine Le Pen, reacting to anti-Semitic remarks her father first made 28 years ago and recently repeated, said in a statement she will quickly convene the party's executive bureau to seek "means to best protect the political interests of the National Front."
She said in an interview with the daily Le Figaro that she had spoken with her 86-year-old father and informed him that she will oppose his candidacy in December regional elections to represent an area of southern France where he is a popular figure — and where he might hope to win.
She said he could choose to run as a "dissident" candidate but that the party will be represented by someone else.
"I find myself obliged, in the interest of my country, to make a difficult decision that puts in question family ties," the 46-year-old leader told Le Figaro.
The National Front's political bureau will meet April 17 to select candidates, and that's when the elder Le Pen, who helped found the party in 1972, would be formally cut loose.
The anti-immigration party is one of the most visible far-right groups in Europe and has for decades been a critical factor in French politics, thrusting immigration to the top of the mainstream right's agenda and playing kingmaker in elections. Jean-Marie Le Pen shocked the world when he made it to the runoff of the 2002 presidential vote.
Marine Le Pen took over the reins of the party in 2011 from her father, who was named honorary president for life. Since then she has been refitting it with a new, more voter-friendly image with hopes of running in — and winning — the 2017 presidential vote. She has pushed out many old-guard cohorts of her father in her bid to scrub the party clean of the anti-Semitic and racist past and has gained increased electoral support.
"Jean-Marie Le Pen seems to be in a veritable spiral between scorched earth and political suicide," Marine Le Pen said in a statement, of a rare indignant candor.
His status "doesn't authorize him to take the National Front hostage," she said, adding that his "objective seems to be to drown me."
The two Le Pens have jousted repeatedly in the past. However, the decision to punish her father by opposing his candidacy was unprecedented.
The feud, more than previous disputes, appears to lay bare the two faces of the National Front, the ultra-conservative wing represented by Jean-Marie Le Pen and a northern contingent, often younger like daughter Le Pen.
"It's a discussion about the fundamentals. It's not a family quarrel," said party vice-president Florian Philippot, a top lieutenant of Marine Le Pen who has deeply influenced party policies.
Father Le Pen triggered the clash with an interview last week in which he repeated comments that the Nazi gas chambers were a "detail in history," remarks for which he was once convicted. He has been repeatedly convicted of racism or anti-Semitism over the years.
He also told the extreme-right newspaper Rivarol that the National Front has some "fervent Petainists" as followers, referring to Philippe Petain, who ran a Nazi collaborationist regime in the French city Vichy during World War II.
"I never considered Marshall Petain as a traitor," he said.
In an interview Wednesday morning on RTL radio Le Pen said he was defending "freedom of thought, freedom of expression ... that the National Front should defend."
"If it no longer defends them, it is Madame Le Pen who should ask the question of whether she is useful to the cause she pretends to serve," he said.