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Front National leader replacing Marine Le Pen quits days after nomination over Nazi gas chamber row

Jean- Francois Jalkh denies he said people 'should be able to discuss' elements of history of Holocaust

Chloe Farand
Friday 28 April 2017 11:42 BST
Marine Le Pen arrives at the Elysee Palace in Paris with National Front Vice-Presidents Jean-Francois Jalkh (centre) and Florian Philippot
Marine Le Pen arrives at the Elysee Palace in Paris with National Front Vice-Presidents Jean-Francois Jalkh (centre) and Florian Philippot (REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer)

The man appointed to replace Marine Le Pen as leader of the far-right Front National party has quit the job after just three days over accusations he denied the existence of gas chambers in the Second World War.

Ms Le Pen stepped down temporarily as chairwoman of her party on Monday night, claiming it would allow her to represent better the interests of "all French people" in the presidential race.

But Jean-Francois Jalkh, the party's vice president and an MEP who was named interim leader at least until the end of the campaign, has decided to turn down the role, Ms Le Pen's partner and spokesman Louis Aliot told French radio station RMC on Friday.

The U-turn comes after an interview dating back to April 2000 resurfaced, in which Mr Jalkh allegedly made comments denying the use of Zyklon B gas in Nazi gas chambers, Le Monde reports.

“I think we should be able to discuss this problem [of gas chambers],” Mr Jalkh is quoted as saying before describing the work of Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson, who was previously convicted for “complicity in contesting the existence of crimes against humanity”, as “serious” and “rigorous”.

According to the French newspaper, he went on to say the use of Zyklon B gas for “mass extermination was technically impossible”.

Mr Jalkh said he had no recollection of the interview and that the accusations were totally unfounded.

But Magali Boumaza, a professor at the Galatasaray University in Istanbul, Turquie, who carried out the interview, said she had proof in notebooks and on a tape recording of Mr Jalkh’s comments.

Despite Ms Le Pen's efforts to "de-demonise" the party and move away from the reputation of her father Jean-Marie Le Pen and his views on the Holocaust, the issue has come back to haunt her only a week away from the French election’s second round vote on 7 May.

Speaking to RMC, Mr Aliot said: “Jean-Francois Jalkh has refused his mission as interim president. He wants to defend himself and file a legal complaint”.

In an interview with BFM TV, Ms Le Pen’s campaign manager David Rachline, said the accusations were “an attack on his [Mr Jalkh] honour” and the affair had been “completely fabricated”.

The mayor of the Front National northern stronghold Hénin-Beaumont, Steve Briois, will assume the responsibilities of the party’s presidency until the end of the presidential campaign.

Ms Le Pen has previously made clear her political differences with her father and repeatedly condemned his comments on the Holocaust.

Last year, Mr Le Pen, who has been convicted twice since 1987 for comments about the Second World War, was fined €30,000 for saying gas chambers were “a detail” of the Second World War.

One poll shows support for centrist Emmanuel Macron, who will face Ms Le Pen in the final round, has slipped below 60 per cent for the first time since mid-March.

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