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France

National Front rallies underline party divisions

media National Front party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen delivers a speech during the traditional May Day tribute to Joan of Arc (Jeanne d'Arc) in front of her statue in Paris, France, May 1, 2016. REUTERES/Philippe Wojazer

There were barely enough statues of Joan of Arc to go around in Paris on Sunday as feuding factions of France's far-right National Front (FN) held rival May Day rallies at the feet of their heroine.

Traditionally, the FN gathers on May 1 in front of a gilded bronze statue of the peasant girl -- who fought against the English occupation of France during the Hundred Years War -- on the Place de Pyramides square.

However, bitter infighting which saw FN leader Marine Le Pen oust her father Jean-Marie last year meant there were two different rallies at two different Joans and more airing of the family feud.

Father Vs. Daughter

Jean-Marie Le Pen, 87, kicked out of the party for refusing to tone down racist and anti-Semitic comments, held court at the traditional spot in front of about 400 supporters where he woefully predicted a loss for the FN in next year's presidential elections.

"There has been no sign sent in the direction of reconciliation," said the firebrand father of the FN, adding that without unity the party "would be beaten in the second round, maybe even the first."

"We must all make an effort to only focus on that which unites us against decadence and adversity," he said, warning against the "fatal" danger of mass immigration.

After taming the FN's racist rhetoric, Marine Le Pen has overseen an unprecedented rise in the party's fortunes and many pollsters predict the FN will make it to the second round of the presidential election.

This has only happened once before in a shock breakthrough in 2002 by Jean-Marie Le Pen, who was later beaten by Jacques Chirac.

Official gathering

Meanwhile Marine Le Pen led the official FN gathering at another Paris statue of Joan of Arc.

Joan of Arc, burned at the stake in 1431, was later made a saint by the Roman Catholic Church and became a symbol of French resistance adopted to the cause of the anti-immigration FN.

Last year Marine Le Pen had her May Day ruined when her father strode onto the podium uninvited, and bare-chested Femen feminist activists later disrupted her speech with Nazi salutes and a "Heil Le Pen" flag.

This time Femen was back in action: half a dozen bare-chested activists in gold skirts protested in front of the venue where the FN was holding a banquet, spraying champagne and chanting "Long live the end of the FN".

 

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