PARIS (AP) — National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen cried out to patron saint Joan of Arc for help at the party's annual May Day march Friday, while bare-chested Femen activists used a bullhorn to drown out a speech by his daughter, president of the far-right party.
The chaotic May Day events put on full display a family feud between National Front President Marine Le Pen and her 86-year-old father, who is being pushed to the sidelines of the far-right, anti-immigrant party.
Jean-Marie Le Pen goes before a party disciplinary committee Monday for reiterating anti-Semitic statements for which he's already been convicted. His daughter, at the helm of the party since 2011, wants to clean up the National Front's image ahead of France's 2017 presidential election after making inroads in local and European elections.
For the first time, the elder Le Pen, who helped found the party in 1972, did not march at the side of his daughter or have a place on stage during her speech in front of the Paris Opera. Marine Le Pen was instead surrounded by recently elected local party officials.
But Jean-Marie Le Pen made sure he was not left out, despite a well-scripted scenario that kept father and daughter apart.
Dressed in a bright red jacket, Le Pen cried out "Help, Joan of Arc!" while laying a wreath at the foot of the gilded statue of the saint — for the first time alone. He later mounted the stage at the start of his daughter's speech, raising clenched fists as if in victory before withdrawing.
Two Femen activists, meanwhile, barged into Marine Le Pen's wreath-laying ceremony at the saint's statue. The women, with "Le Pen Top Fascist" scrawled on their chests, were quickly taken away by security.
Later, as Marine Le Pen began speaking, three other Femen protesters appeared on a nearby hotel balcony, unfurled two huge flags with "Heil Le Pen" inscribed on them — as on their bare chests — and gave Nazi salutes. Using a bullhorn, they briefly drowned out Le Pen's speech decrying immigration and the European Union.
The party's secretary general, Nicolas Bay, said later on BFM-TV that the National Front would file a legal complaint against the Femen protesters. Femen leader Inna Shevchenko said on Twitter her group was preparing a legal complaint over the brutal methods used by party security to dislodge the protesters.