France's Le Pen replaced by granddaughter after family feud

PARIS (AFP) - The granddaughter of France's historic far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen was officially named on Friday as his replacement in regional elections, following a bitter family feud within the National Front party he founded.

Marion Marechal Le Pen, 25, will stand in the southeastern seat that had been ear-marked for her 86-year-old grandfather.

The elder Le Pen stepped down on Monday in the wake of highly controversial comments he made regarding Nazi gas chambers, which he described as a "detail of history".

He also praised France's World War II leader Philippe Petain, who collaborated with the Nazis.

The National Front's current leader, his daughter Marine Le Pen, called the comments "political suicide".

She said she would not support her father's bid for the regional polls - finally splitting with the party's patriarch who has become an increasing embarrassment in her attempts to clean up the party's traditionally racist and anti-Semitic image since she took over in 2011.

Marion, a telegenic blonde and France's youngest member of parliament, is seen as closer to her grandfather's conservative views than those of her aunt.

National Front (FN) founder Jean-Marie Le Pen had previously said that he would not go quietly, accusing his daughter of "shooting herself in the foot".

His comments "do not justify the racket that has been set off in our ranks which could weaken our movement to a dangerous degree," he said last week.

But he decided to back down on Monday to avoid "a serious crisis" within the movement.

In a poll published on Sunday, more than two-thirds (67 per cent) of FN voters said they were in favour of Jean-Marie's departure while 74 per cent said they believed his media sorties were harming the party.

Under Marine Le Pen, the FN has enjoyed a series of election success, notably coming first in last year's European elections.

The anti-immigration National Front advocates that France, a founding member of the European Union, withdraw from the bloc, pull out of the euro and reintroduce the franc.