'No regrets' as French far-right leader bows out

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The Independent Online

The veteran French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen will retire in January and will not run for president in 2012, he announced yesterday.

The announcement, although long-expected, brings to an end four decades of domination of the xenophobic French right by Mr Le Pen, 81, In that time he steered the nationalist, anti-immigrant, anti-European, anti-American French right from a marginal series of antagonistic tribes to become a significant power in the land.

Mr Le Pen's daughter, Marine, 41, is favourite to succeed him at a party conference next January, but her more progressive views on subjects including abortion and women's rights make her unpopular with the social conservative and Catholic fundamentalist wings of the party.

Mr Le Pen, convicted on several occasions for making dismissive remarks about the Holocaust, said yesterday that he departed with "no remorse, no regrets and, above all, no repentances".

The National Front leader, who founded the party in 1972, stunned the world when he beat the Socialist candidate, Lionel Jospin, into third place and reached the second-round run-off in the French presidential elections in 2002. The party has since lost its electoral footing and has run into severe financial problems, forcing the sale of its headquarters in Saint Cloud in the Paris suburbs.

Mr Le Pen, who has begun to look his age in recent months, said that he felt a "certain relief" at stepping down as party president. "That is the way of things. I am not eternal, alas," he said. "Even though almost anything is possible with the discoveries of modern science."

Two candidates have already declared their intention to run for Mr Le Pen's job in January: his daughter Marine and his lacklustre deputy Bruno Gollnisch, 60.