France's Le Pen faces exclusion from his far-right party
The bitter family feud tearing apart France's far-right National Front (FN) resumed Thursday, with the party's executive board set to rule on whether to boot out founder Jean-Marie Le Pen.
The 87-year-old has been an increasingly irritating thorn in the side of his daughter, Marine Le Pen, who took over the party from him in 2011 and has tried to steer it away from the overt racism and anti-Semitism of its past.
The final straw came in April when the elder Le Pen rehashed familiar comments about Nazi gas chambers being a "detail" of history and said France should get along with Russia to save the "white world".
Marine Le Pen openly split with her father, saying he was committing "political suicide", and later suspended him from the party.
But the ageing provocateur has shown little interest in going quietly, successfully challenging his suspension in court and barging onto the stage during a major FN rally in May.
- 'No right to judge me' -
The spat has rumbled on, with Marine organising a postal ballot of FN members last month in which 94 percent said they wanted her father stripped of his title as honorary president.
The octogenarian firebrand scored another legal victory when a court ruled that the ballot violated internal party rules.
In a sign of how deep the rift with his daughter has become, he told a local newspaper on Sunday that he would not vote for her in 2017 presidential elections.
The former Foreign Legionnaire's inflammatory speeches made him the figurehead of France's far right for more than four decades since he co-founded the FN in 1972.
And even after he handed over the reins to his daughter, he continued to come out with controversial statements, such as asserting that the Ebola virus could "solve" the immigration problem within three months.
As he showed up Thursday at the party headquarters outside Paris ahead of the disciplinary hearing, Le Pen senior said he would "challenge... their right to judge me".
His hearing lasted three hours, but it was unclear when the final decision would be announced.
"I gave full explanations to those who had not always understood what was being said or what was being reported," he said as he left the building.
Marine and her deputy, Florian Philippot, stayed away from the meeting of the party's executive committee to ensure "total impartiality" -- a move derided by Le Pen senior.
"The leaders have taken shelter, only the foot soldiers remain," he told reporters.
- Born fighter -
The FN had been on something of a roll, having scored unprecedented election results in the past two years, notably coming first in European polls in 2014.
A struggling economy and growing distaste for mainstream politics has helped the party, with Marine Le Pen skillfully repackaging the party's traditional dislike of outsiders as opposition to the EU and defence of secularism.
But Jean-Marie Le Pen has been an awkward reminder of the party's roots -- a "parasite" on the party, in the words of Philippot -- when it should be focusing on regional elections in December.
Always keen to position himself outside the mainstream, Le Pen's provocative rhetoric nonetheless brought the party to the forefront of politics after a slow start in the 1970s -- even reaching the second round of presidential elections in 2002.
That seemed to mark the high-water mark of his party's chauvinistic appeal, however, as a stunned France responded with days of anti-racism rallies that helped his unloved centre-right rival Jacques Chirac back into office.
Le Pen can still count on support from a die-hard rump within the party, and the man who became an orphan in his teens and survived the brutal wars of Indochina and Algeria is a born fighter.
In a newspaper column this week, the FN patriarch said: "One thing is certain... the political line that I have represented for decades will not disappear from the national scene."
© 2015 AFP