Le Pen loses his grip on far-right

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JEAN-MARIE Le Pen lost a legal battle yesterday in his struggle for mastery of the French far-right. A court decided that his rival, Bruno Megret, expelled from the National Front (NF) in December, had the right to continue to use the party's name.

The Tribunal de Grande Instance decided that Mr Megret and his followers had been expelled from the party illegally and had has much right as Mr Le Pen to claim to represent the NF.

The decision makes it virtually certain that French voters will be confronted with two ultra-right, xenophobic parties, both called the National Front, in municipal elections in March and the European elections in June. Mr Megret can now claim legal status for the emergency national conference of the party that he has organised in Marignane, near Marseilles, next weekend.

The meeting is backed by 20,000 of the 40,000 NF members, according to the Megretiste rebels.