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Jean-Marie Le Pen, France's far-right master provocateur

05 may 2015, 13:44
0

 He labels gas chambers a "detail of history", believes Nazi occupation of France was not all bad, wants to join with Russia to save the "white world" and says he understands why some fight democracy, AFP reports.

Jean-Marie Le Pen, a former paratrooper whose inflammatory speeches has made him the figurehead of France's far right for more than four decades, has not once veered away from the role he loves best -- master provocateur.

Even after handing the reins of the National Front (FN) party that he co-founded to his daughter Marine in 2011, the 86-year-old has continued to come out with statements that have cast a shadow on her attempts to steer the party into the mainstream.

On Monday, that absolute insistence to speak his mind led to the party suspending him -- a decision he characteristically slammed as a "criminal act".

Marine's dismay at her father's antics was clear for all to see on Friday when her father ignored his omission from a line-up of FN leaders for the party's traditional May 1 rally in Paris and climbed uninvited onto the stage to take the applause. Standing at the lectern behind him, his daughter looked appalled.

Last month, after her father raised the issues of the gas chambers and immigration once again, and threw in some attacks on his daughter, Marine decided enough was enough and openly split with her father whom she said was committing "political suicide".

Accusing the FN's honorary president of making "crass provocations that appear aimed at harming me", she said she would oppose his standing in December regional elections in what was described as a "total and definitive" split between father and daughter.

    'Life and death' politics 

 Is this the end of the road for the former Foreign Legionnaire?

Not necessarily. If anything, the man who became an orphan in his teens and survived the brutal wars of Indochina and Algeria, is a born fighter.

"Le Pen never harbours regrets. He has this idea that if someone attacks you, you respond three times as strongly," says Nicolas Lebourg, a French far-right expert.

"He thinks that politics is a matter of life and death."

A gifted orator, Le Pen has long railed against the establishment parties of the left and right, accusing them of leading the country to the brink of disaster, but his signature issue has always been immigration.

Undeterred by the FN's slow start after its birth in 1972, he gradually managed to bring the party to the forefront of politics.

So much so that Le Pen reached the second round of presidential elections in 2002, stunning France and prompting days of anti-racism rallies that eventually saw his unloved centre-right rival Jacques Chirac voted back into office.

The son of a seamstress and a Breton fisherman, Le Pen became a ward of the state as a teenager after his father's boat hit a mine.

A loud-mouthed brawler, he studied law but always loved activism more, and went to fight in Indochina.

On his return, he was elected to parliament aged just 27 before leaving again, this time for Algeria where he was later accused of torture -- a claim he strenuously denied.

A fervent anti-Communist, he became active in far-right circles and eventually took the head of the brand new FN.

    Ebola can 'solve' immigration 

 Le Pen ran for the presidency for the first time in 1974 -- and for the last time in 2007 when he campaigned to cut off social benefits to foreigners and deport illegal immigrants, a stance he had defended for decades.

He has maintained that his views, once dismissed as extremist, are now part of mainstream politics.

And his thirst for controversy shows no sign of abating -- from asserting that gas chambers were a "detail of the history of the Second World War", to saying the Ebola virus could "solve" the issue of immigration within three months.

Recently he claimed that France has to get along with Russia to save the "white world".


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