French court cancels elder Le Pen's suspension from far-right party

A file photo shows Le Pen gesturing on stage as his daughter looks on during the party's annual rally.
A file photo shows Le Pen gesturing on stage as his daughter looks on during the party's annual rally.AFP

NANTERRE, France (AFP) - A French court on Thursday cancelled the suspension of Jean-Marie Le Pen from the far-right National Front after he was booted out of the party he founded in a bitter spat with his daughter.

The court ordered the party to "restore" Le Pen's membership and position as honorary president two months after he was ousted by his daughter Marine, who now leads the party.

It said that while Le Pen's suspension was justified, the party "violated statutory rules" by not specifying it was a temporary measure pending a disciplinary procedure.

"The outrageous eviction of which I was a victim has been cancelled. I now want to move as fast as possible towards unity. Let's get to work!" the veteran politician said on Twitter.

"I am honorary president for life. The court has ruled that in a single, very clear, sitting," he said later on RTL television.

The National Front (FN) swiftly announced it would appeal the decision, which Marine Le Pen said was "a sort of pyrrhic victory" as party members were expected to vote in July to do away with the position of honorary president.

Le Pen, 87, was suspended in May over a string of controversial remarks that led to a vicious row with his daughter, whom he publicly disowned.

Marine decided enough was enough after her father repeated his view that the Nazi gas chambers were merely a "detail" of history and also claimed that France had to get along with Russia to save the "white world".

The elder Le Pen's lawyer Frederic Joachim said his client "can once again use his office from tomorrow morning" and take part in all internal workings of the party his position of honorary president allows.

But the vote to remove the position of honorary president takes place on July 10.

"In eight days, this affair will be behind us," said Marine.

Her father chastised the party for expending so much time and effort on internal politics.

"At a time when the country faces innumerable difficulties... the National Front has spent the last four months exclusively on internal problems and the attempt to scrap Jean-Marie Le Pen's honorary presidency," he complained.

'A MALICIOUS ACT'

The court ruling was a blow to the 46-year-old party leader who announced Tuesday she would compete in regional elections later this year considered a key test ahead of presidential polls in 2017.

While the FN remains anti-EU and anti-immigration it has worked hard to soften its image since Marine took over in 2011 and has seen its popularity soar, enjoying a series of election successes.

Several polls have shown she could pose a serious challenge to the conservative Republicans of former president Nicolas Sarkozy as well as the ruling Socialists in 2017.

After the octogenarian firebrand's suspension his fight with his daughter grew even uglier, with the former paratrooper saying he no longer wanted to see his daughter elected president in 2017 and was ashamed she still carried his name.

The rift was laid bare for all to see during the party's traditional May 1 rally in Paris when the elder Le Pen - conspicuously dropped from a line-up of FN leaders on stage - strode uninvited onto the podium, grabbing the limelight as his daughter readied to make her speech.

"I think that was a malicious act, I think it was an act of contempt towards me," Marine said at the time.

"I get the feeling that he can't stand that the National Front continues to exist when he no longer heads it."