25 Apr 2017

Le Pen steps aside as French National Front leader

7:30 am on 25 April 2017

Marine Le Pen says she's stepping aside as leader of the far-right National Front party as she seeks the French presidency.

French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen.

Marine Le Pen's National Front party would endanger France, current president Francois Hollande told voters Photo: AFP

The move comes just a day after she reached the second round of the French election, where she will face centrist Emmanuel Macron.

"This evening I decided to take my leave of the presidency of the National Front," she told TV channel France 2.

"I will be above partisan considerations."

It is not clear if her decision will be permanent. She told France 2 that France is approaching a "decisive moment".

Ms Le Pen took over the FN leadership from her father in January 2011 and helped her party secure big gains in regional elections.

She won 7.6 million votes on Sunday - the strongest ever result for a FN candidate, and 2.8 million more than her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, won in 2002.

Her party wants to slash immigration, clamp down on free trade, and overturn France's relationship with Europe.

Ms Le Pen and Mr Macron will face each other in a run-off vote on 7 May after taking the top places in Sunday's first round, with Mr Macron the current favourite to win.

Earlier, President François Hollande called on French voters to reject Ms Le Pen and back Mr Macron to succeed him.

Mr Hollande said a far-right victory would endanger the country.

"What is at stake is France's make-up, its unity, its membership of Europe and its place in the world."

His brief TV address on Monday reflected a move by much of France's mainstream to line up behind Mr Macron to try to stave off Ms Le Pen.

Earlier, defeated candidates, the Republicans' François Fillon and Socialist Benoît Hamon, both urged supporters to vote for Mr Macron.

Ms Le Pen quickly renewed her attacks on Mr Macron on Monday, calling him a "weakling" for his anti-terrorism policies.

The victory of Ms Le Pen and Mr Macron meant that, for the first time in six decades, neither of France's main left-wing or right-wing parties had a candidate remaining in the election.

The pair will hold a TV debate on 3 May, aides to Mr Macron said on Monday.

President Hollande said the far-right would threaten the rupture of Europe, "profoundly divide France" and "faced with such a risk, I will vote for Emmanuel Macron".

He said his former economy minister would "defend the values which will bring French people together at such an important moment, a serious time for Europe, the world and France".

When he conceded defeat, the conservative Mr Fillon, who was third on Sunday with 20 percent, said there was "no other choice than voting against the far-right".

However, the position of the fourth-placed candidate, hard-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who took a creditable 19.6 percent, was still unclear.

He pointedly refused to back Mr Macron, whose pro-EU, pro-business and pro-globalisation stance is diametrically opposed to his anti-austerity, eurosceptic approach.

Steeve Briois, vice-president of the National Front (FN), said it was hoping to win over Mr Mélenchon's supporters, who he called "outside the system".

"The voters who voted for Mr Mélenchon are angry voters. They can be in agreement with us," Mr Briois told the Associated Press.

However, a poll on Monday of Mélenchon supporters suggested that 51 percent would vote for Mr Macron and only 19 percent for Ms Le Pen.

Protesters who burned cars at the Place de la Bastille and Place de la Republique in Paris overnight were chanting "No Marine and No Macron!"

The latest opinion poll, by Opinionway, suggested a second-round victory for Mr Macron by 61 percent to 39 percent.

But there were warnings from Mr Macron's own party following a glitzy victory celebration at a Paris bistro that the job was not yet done.

"We need to be humble. The election hasn't been won and we need to bring people together to win," Richard Ferrand, secretary-general of Mr Macron's En Marche movement, said.

The National Front said that while Mr Macron's supporters were recovering "from their showbiz evening", Ms Le Pen was out canvassing in a market in a small northern town.

She quickly attacked her rival: "Mr Macron is a weakling. Here we have a candidate who doesn't have a programme to protect the French people from the threat posed by Islamist terrorism."

"He is a hysterical, radical 'Europeanist'," she said.

"He is for total open borders. He says there is no such thing as French culture."

In other developments, the Grand Mosque of Paris called for French Muslims to vote for Mr Macron.

The police union Alliance - to which Xavier Jugelé, murdered by a gunman in Paris last Thursday belonged - also urged police officers to vote against Ms Le Pen.


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