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Marine Le Pen: new face of French far right

by Staff Writers
Tours, France (AFP) Jan 16, 2011
As well as daughter of the French National Front's founder, Marine Le Pen is also a seasoned politician who hopes, as its new leader, to polish the image of a party seen as racist.

Le Pen has angered traditionalists who saw her as an upstart benefiting from her father's position. But she has won her political spurs, and on Sunday was officially named his successor as the leader of the National Front (FN).

The blonde, twice-divorced mother of three is credited with offering a softer image of the party which has been dominated by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, and marked by his outrage-inducing comments, since he founded it in 1972.

His youngest daughter, who resembles him in her deep voice and strong chin, 42-year-old Marine wept with emotion as she sat in the front row at his farewell speech as leader on Saturday.

Elected to local and regional council posts and in 2004 to the European Parliament, Marine Le Pen also served as the FN's legal head and became its spokesman at the time of her father's 2007 presidential bid.

Analysts see her as part of a new age of far-right leaders across Europe seeking to shake off the fascist stigma of their predecessors.

Her strategy: countering the sexist, anti-Semitic reputation of her father and spinning an anti-immigration, anti-Islam agenda as a positive defence of French values.

"She embodies a new political generation in the National Front, which wants to modernise it and stop it seeming old-fashioned," said Nonna Mayer at elite politics school Sciences-Po, a specialist on the far right.

Critics say Marine Le Pen represents the same old Front in new clothes, playing on white voters' sensitivities over France's large Muslim population.

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.

"This is the true face of the far right which has not changed in the slightest, and Marine Le Pen is just as dangerous as Jean-Marie Le Pen," Socialist Party spokesman Benoit Hamon said in response.

"When she compares Muslims praying in the street to the (wartime) Occupation, that is the kind of verbal blunder that is associated with her father," said Mayer.

"She doesn't reflect the violent image that was associated with her father. Compared to him, she represents far less the xenophobic far-right. But that doesn't mean that underneath she is any different."

Recent polls say about 17 percent of the French would vote for Marine Le Pen to lead the nation, posing a big challenge for President Nicolas Sarkozy ahead of the 2012 election.

Jean-Marie Le Pen told a hall full of supporters on Saturday he was sure his successor would "take the National Front to power."

She says she was marked for life by witnessing an assassination attempt on her father in 1976, when she was eight. In a book she described waking up when the bomb destroyed the Paris house in which the Le Pen family was sleeping.

"I have truly lived since that moment with an awareness of danger," she wrote in 2006. "It became a major element in my environment and how I am put together."

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