French court deals blow to far-right figurehead Jean-Marie Le Pen

A French appeals court has upheld the far-right National Front's decision to expel party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen over anti-Semitic remarks, a stinging defeat for him and a victory for his daughter and rival Marine.

The decision by the court in Versailles was the latest episode in a bitter power struggle between controversial father and ambitious daughter over the identity of the anti-immigration party.

The elder Le Pen anointed his daughter to succeed him in 2011, but now bemoans fundamental decisions she has made.

Marine Le Pen and party decision-makers expelled the elder Le Pen in 2015 for a series of remarks considered a liability to the party's image, including repeating a remark that Nazi gas chambers are a "detail" in the history of the Second World War.

Jean-Marie Le Pen sued - his lawyer said the decision to expel him was made by an "execution squad" - but a lower court in 2016 confirmed his removal.

In the appeals court ruling today, the judge echoed the lower court's arguments that the National Front was justified in removing Mr Le Pen as a rank-and-file member because of the damage he had caused to the party.

However, the court also ordered the National Front to pay thousands of euro in damages and other costs - and confirmed the lower court's ruling that the 89-year-old Mr Le Pen can retain the status of party president for life, which allows him access to high-level party meetings.

Jean-Marie Le Pen's lawyer welcomed this decision as a sign of victory, according to French media reports.

It may be short-lived, as the party leadership hopes to eliminate the president-for-life position at a party congress next month, breaking Mr Le Pen's last remaining ties with the party he founded in 1972.

The congress is also expected to vote on a new name for the National Front in a final break with the party's past. Jean-Marie Le Pen said in a Tweet last month that a name change would amount to "veritable treason" toward decades of party followers.

At the time of the anti-Semitic remarks, Marine Le Pen was in the midst of an image clean-up campaign ahead of the 2017 presidential race, and she and her cohorts felt her father's verbal provocations were a risk to her chances of success. The elder Le Pen contended his remarks fall into the domain of free expression.

Marine Le Pen was runner-up in last year's French presidential election, suffering a resounding loss to Emmanuel Macron.

Neither Le Pen was present for today's ruling.

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