France's Le Pen steps down as leader of party

COMPILED FROM WIRE SERVICES
ISTANBUL
Published 26.04.2017 00:35

The far-right presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen, announced she was stepping aside as her National Front (FN) party's leader in a move seen as an attempt to reach out to a broader spectrum of voters ahead of the crucial May 7 run-off.

With 7.5 million votes, Marine Le Pen beat the National Front party's previous election record on Sunday but failed to pip pro-EU Macron to the first place. She set a new record for her National Front party with nearly eight million votes out of 37,003,546 ballots cast. Macron passed ahead of the far-right candidate with 24.01 percent votes to Le Pen's 21.30 percent in Sunday's first round, according to complete results published by the Interior Ministry on Monday evening.

About her move to distance herself from the party, Le Pen told French broadcaster France 2: "This evening I decided to take my leave of the presidency of the National Front.

"Tonight, I am no longer the president of National Front. I will be above partisan considerations," she added.

French far-right veteran Jean-Marie Le Pen said his daughter Marine, who faces centrist Emmanuel Macron in a May 7 presidential runoff, should have campaigned more aggressively for Sunday's first round, following the example of Donald Trump.

"I think her campaign was too laid-back. If I'd been in her place I would have had a Trump-like campaign, a more open one, very aggressive against those responsible for the decadence of our country, whether left or right," 88-year-old Jean-Marie Le Pen told RTL radio.

The two have been at odds since Marine Le Pen launched moves to clean the National Front's image of xenophobic associations in the run-up to the campaign for the 2017 presidency.

Jean-Marie Le Pen shocked the world in 2002 by qualifying for the second round of the presidential election and then went on to lose in a landslide to conservative Jacques Chirac.

He was frequently accused of making xenophobic and anti-Semitic statements and Le Pen expelled him from the party in 2015, though as the party's founder he remains a well-known figure and represents a body of opinion in the party.

For Marine Le Pen, the answer to security, terrorism and economy issues is to block legal and illegal immigration, cease admitting refugees, say goodbye to the EU and reintroduce the franc.

The 48-year-old lawyer has vowed to hold a national referendum on leaving the EU and the Schengen border-free area within six months of her taking office.

Le Pen has repeatedly said she is against so called "Islamist globalization" and wants France to be a "true country" and not "a mere region of the European Union".

Surveys projecting a second-round clash between Macron and Le Pen have consistently shown the centrist candidate winning by a comfortable margin.

The first opinion poll published after Sunday's results showed Macron beating the far-right candidate in the second round by 61 percent to 39 percent. The new president will be formally confirmed by mid-May. The presidential poll is to be followed by a two-round legislative election to select the parliament in June.

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