French far-right father-daughter feud disrupts tradition

PARIS (AP) — Jean-Marie Le Pen, a founder and the decades-long leader of France’s far-right National Front, declared Sunday that his daughter, the party president who has expelled him, will lose next year’s presidential race if she fails to unify the party.

The bitter division between the 87-year-old and his daughter Marine Le Pen, 47, played out Sunday with the party’s traditional May Day parade canceled and separate wreaths laid at two different statues of Joan of Arc — the party’s patron saint.

Jean-Marie Le Pen, who instituted the tradition, spoke at the gilded statue where a year ago he implored Joan of Arc for help. This year, he predicted that without unity his daughter, who has worked to clean up the party’s image and broaden its base by reaching out to youth, will lose France’s 2017 presidential race.

“Since no signal of reconciliation has been put out, I say today with gravity and sadness that the National Front president will be defeated in the second round, perhaps even the first,” the elder Le Pen told several hundred followers.

The bare-breasted militant Femen group, which crashed Marine’s Le Pen’s speech last year, showed up Sunday outside a banquet lunch she held in eastern Paris. The half-dozen Femen were removed by police.

Jean-Marie Le Pen, speaking to The Associated Press, denied that there were now two National Fronts.

“It’s the famous French diversity,” he laughed.

“It’s an episode. A detail if you will,” he added, alluding to his remark that the Nazi gas chambers were a “detail” in World War II history. It was the reiteration last year of this remark — initially made many years earlier — that proved the final straw for Marine Le Pen, who began the process of expelling him from the party.

The party could soon see moves against two other longstanding members who attended Jean-Marie Le Pen’s speech — Bruno Gollnisch and Marie-Christine Arnautu.

Gollnisch told the AP they had been disinvited to the banquet after advising Marine Le Pen they would attend her father’s speech.