French far-right veteran's daughter set to head party

16th January 2011, Comments 0 comments

Marine Le Pen was due to take the helm of the French National Front from her father on Sunday, looking to soften the anti-immigrant party's image with an eye on the 2012 presidential election.

Her father Jean-Marie Le Pen stepped down on Saturday after four decades as leader of the Front, marking the end of an era for his party which shook up French politics despite mainstream politicians' efforts to shun it.

Supporters of Le Pen's blonde youngest daughter Marine, 42, say she will bring a softer, feminine face to the party, which has been widely branded sexist and racist.

Recent polls say about 17 percent of the French would vote for Marine Le Pen to lead the nation, posing a big challenge for right-wing President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Like her father, she has not avoided causing outrage with outspoken comments. Last month she compared Muslims praying in the streets outside overcrowded mosques in France to the Nazi occupation.

Party officials said ahead of Sunday's official victory announcement that she beat her rival, the traditional party stalwart Bruno Gollnisch, 60, by winning two thirds of the votes in an internal leadership poll.

Official results were due to be announced at 10:00 am (0900 GMT) and the winner was to give a speech at 1400 GMT.

Jean-Marie Le Pen's farewell speech on Saturday gave no indication of how the focus of the party may change under his daughter's leadership.

In it, the 82-year-old rejected the outrage sparked over the years by comments that saw him branded a racist but did not stop him performing strongly in several presidential elections.

He reiterated his doom-laden warnings on the party's two biggest issues: the spread of Islam and immigration, favourite political issues for far-right parties across Europe.

The head of French anti-racism group SOS Racisme, Dominique Sopo, said in a statement on Saturday that the leadership change "replaces one peddler of hate with another."

© 2011 AFP

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