PARIS (AFP) - France's far-right National Front dropped a candidate for municipal elections due in March after she compared the country's black justice minister to a "monkey".
The anti-immigration eurosceptic party led by Marine Le Pen is desperately seeking a makeover to broaden its voter appeal and dispel its xenophobic image.
The party recently won a key by-election and is tipped to be the leading French party in European elections also due next year, according to a new poll.
Anne-Sophie Leclere, the FN candidate for Rethel in the northeastern Ardennes region provoked a storm by comparing Justice Minister Christiane Taubira to a monkey on French television.
She has also owned up to a photo-montage showing Taubira, who is from French Guiana, alongside a monkey which is posted on her Facebook page.
The 33-year-old mother-of-three told France 2's Envoye Special (Special Correspondent) programme she would prefer to see Taubira "in a tree swinging from the branches rather than in government." "She is wild," Ms Leclere said, adding: "I have black friends and it doesn't mean I call them monkeys."
The National Front's vice-president Florian Philippot said on Friday the choice of Ms Leclere as a candidate had been a "casting error".
The party has increasingly taken a hard line on racial slurs expressed by its members.
In September it dropped another candidate for posting a photo on his Facebook page showing a burning Israeli flag with the caption "This is France" - an allusion to the country's large Muslim community, the biggest in western Europe.
The party has also expelled activists for making bigoted public statements and its lists in next year's municipal elections will include a handful of ethnic minority candidates.