Le Pen ends 40 years at French far-right helm

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The leader of France's National Front Jean-Marie Le Pen stepped down on Saturday after four decades at the head of an anti-immigrant party which shook up French politics under his leadership.

Le Pen reviewed his nearly 40 years at the far-right helm and reiterated his stance against the spread of Islam in France, in a farewell speech at the party's conference in the northwestern town of Tours.

He remained unapologetic for the outrage sparked by his outspoken comments over the years, which have caused the party to be branded racist but have not stopped him scoring double figures in several presidential elections.

"I have never forgotten those who were in hardship or adversity. It is for them, and to avoid our people one day falling into hardship and servitude, that I have never ceased to fight and hope," he said, to deafening cheers from supporters.

"I know that the presence of the National Front in political life is a comfort and a hope for millions of our compatriots."

He defied the outrage sparked by his comments over the years, notably his claim in 1987 that the wartime Nazi death camps were a mere "detail of history."

"All my comments were distorted from their true meaning... because I refused to submit to the dictatorship of the thought police," he said during a speech of more than an hour, often punching the air and drowned by cheers.

Le Pen's youngest daughter Marine, 42, is due to take over as party leader.

Party officials said she won an internal leadership vote of which the results were to be formally announced on Sunday morning.

© 2011 AFP

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