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National Front expels founder Jean-Marie Le Pen

France's National Front (FN) has ousted its founder Jean-Marie Le Pen in an effort to shed its extremist image and increase its chances of taking power in the 2017 presidential election.

In a statement on Thursday night, the party said it had taken the decision to expel the 87-year-old veteran of French politics after a meeting lasting several hours, during which the executive board "deliberated and decided, by the required majority, to exclude Mr Jean-Marie Le Pen as a member".

Bertrand Langlois | AFP | Getty Images

The decision is a clear victory for Marine Le Pen, the party's current leader and Mr Le Pen's daughter, who has been locked in a power struggle with her father.

Ms Le Pen, who has tried to present the party her father founded in 1972 as a more moderate force in French politics, decided that enough was enough in April when her father repeated comments about the Nazi gas chambers being a mere "detail" of history.

He also said that France should support Russia as part of a push to save what he described as the "white world".

Following Thursday's expulsion, Mr Le Pen told France's iTélé news channel: "There is indignation; there is sadness. It's always trying when one has the feeling of not having made any mistake, of having expressed one's opinion as a politician."

Frederic Joachim, Mr Le Pen's lawyer, called the move "a political assassination".

Mr Le Pen is likely to appeal against the decision in court. He has resorted to legal action several times in recent months with some success.

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A former foreign legionnaire, Mr Le Pen has long been a prominent figure in national politics and even reached the second round of the presidential election in 2002. He remains popular with a hardcore segment of the FN, which has long campaigned for tough rules on immigration.

But since taking over the leadership of the party in 2011, his daughter has increasingly seen him as a liability. This year, following his comments about the gas chambers, she accused him of committing "political suicide".

Mr Le Pen's expulsion comes as the FN has found considerable success in appealing to voters weary of France's economic malaise and feeling deceived by the country's traditional leftwing and conservative parties.

In 2014, following a strong performance in local elections, it swept to victory in European elections. Ms Le Pen, a charismatic figure, has even managed to appeal to some disaffected Socialist voters through her defence of big government and her insistence that the state should be a champion of national industry.

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