France's Le Pen raises pressure on daughter, hints at rival bid

Reuters News
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Posted: Feb 23, 2016 8:33 AM

PARIS (Reuters) - French far-right veteran Jean-Marie Le Pen threatened his daughter Marine on Tuesday with launching a rival movement if she refused to accommodate ultra-conservative militants within the National Front party which she now leads.

Since taking over from her father in 2011, Marine Le Pen has sought to sanitize the anti-immigration party's image, making it more mainstream and distancing it from its founder's historic antisemitism. She had him expelled last year for renewing past declarations playing down the Nazi Holocaust.

Under Jean-Marie, the FN was pro-business, anti-state and anti-tax. It has since become more protectionist and pro-welfare, largely under the influence of Marine's deputy, Florian Philippot, whose roots were on the left.

"I am being urged to rally - if possible within or alongside the National Front - all patriots who are faithful to a political line advocating decisive change," the 87-year old Jean-Marie Le Pen wrote in an open letter to his daughter.

"If this move does not succeed, in the face of the terrible dangers threatening our motherland, we will not throw in the towel and, with regret, will take action outside the National Front," he added in the letter published on his blog.

He did not make clear whether that meant he could enter the 2017 presidential election in which recent opinion polls suggest Marine is likely to reach the run-off but unlikely to win.

Jean-Marie, who said in the letter he no longer had any contact with his daughter and other National Front leaders, also criticized her decision to make fewer media appearances after she failed to win any regions in elections in December.

"Your strategic withdrawal from the media scene risks becoming irreversible," the former paratrooper said.

The party's anti-euro stance has been another fault line, with some FN officials fearing it is a key reason why Marine Le Pen is failing to turn growing popularity into election victories.

The party has performed well, election after election in the first round. But it still loses most run-offs and controls less than a dozen small and medium-size municipalities.

(Reporting by Michel Rose; Editing by Paul Taylor and Richard Balmforth)