Le Pens at war over father's defence of Vichy regime

An epic row between father and daughter - over politics, power and the Second World War - is threatening to tear apart France's far-right party, the National Front.

Marine Le Pen, 35, once seen as a possible future leader in succession to her father, Jean-Marie, 76, has distanced herself from the party machine in protest against comments made by M. Le Pen defending German behaviour in France in 1940-44.

Mme Le Pen, who has led a drive to "de-demonise" and modernise the party, is said to have been "furious" that he returned to old themes: minimising Nazi atrocities and defending the collaborationist Vichy regime. Her friends in the party say she feels "stabbed in the back".

Although she has made no public comment on the quarrel, she has decided not to sit for the time being in the eight-person "executive bureau" which runs the National Front. She will also make no public appearances in the campaign against the proposed EU constitution.

Her youth organisation Générations Le Pen - which tries to attract young members by portraying the NF as a forward-looking, nationalist party - has been suspended.

Officially, Mme. Le Pen is taking time off to write a book on the future of the party. She has spent much of the past three weeks since her father's remarks staying with her three children at the country home of the Le Pen clan at La Trinité-sur-Mer in southern Brittany.

Her supporters have made it clear, however, that she is considering her position within the party. She has decided to shun the press and public meetings in order to avoid being pushed into a public disavowal of her father.

In an interview with the far-right magazine, Rivarol, on 7 January, M. Le Pen said that the German occupation of France was "not especially inhuman". He also cast doubt on the official version of an SS massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane in central France in June 1944.

Friends have told the press that Marine was "furious" when she saw the magazine comments, some days before they were picked up by Le Monde. She saw her father's words as a deliberate disavowal of her work and a "stab in the back".

Her strategy since emerging as a modernising force in the NF two years ago has been to drag her father and other senior frontistes away from what she sees as a morbid and damaging obsession with the past. Critics say that this does not necessarily make Marine any more moderate than her father, just more attuned to the concerns of potential, young NF voters, from immigration to "globalisation".

In the past, M. Le Pen has minimised the Holocaust ("a detail of the Second World War") and made puns on the name of a Jewish politician whose name sounded like the French word for crematorium. Mme Le Pen is said to have regarded the most recent remarks as even more stupid and counter-productive since they cast doubt on the suffering of all French people in the war, not only Jews.

Family quarrels have been a feature of M. Le Pen's career. His first wife - and Marine's estranged mother - Pierrette posed nude for Playboy to try to damage his reputation in 1988. His eldest daughter, Marie-Caroline, joined her husband in a breakaway far-right party in 1999.

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