Profile: Marine Le Pen

Marine Le Pen crosses a road in Nanterre, near Paris, 23 April 2012

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In terms of her highly controversial party, French National Front (FN) leader Marine Le Pen is a runaway success story, consolidating the far right vote in the 2012 presidential election.

She took 17.9% of the vote, compared with 10.4% for her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in 2007.

At that time, the FN seemed a moribund force, having lost all of its MPs in the National Assembly.

But now the party long seen as the pariah of French politics has rebounded, finding new pockets of support in France's changing social landscape, and hungrily eyeing parliamentary elections in June.

Much of that success is down to Ms Le Pen whose image is very different to that of her father, a convicted racist, whom she succeeded in January 2011.

With her two divorces, steely femininity and cigarette-roughened voice, the BBC's Hugh Schofield remarks, the mother-of-three comes across as far more "normal" than most of her political rivals.

Yet her father does not doubt her commitment to his far-right agenda. "I passed her the baton," he said after the first round of the 2012 election. "[If] she runs faster than me, then that's so much for the better."

Close bond

Born the youngest of Mr Le Pen's three daughters in 1968, she was eight years old when the family flat in Paris was blown to pieces in a bomb attack, though nobody was hurt.

It was 1972, four years after her father had founded the National Front.

Jean-Marie Le Pen Marine's father and predecessor, Jean-Marie, has several convictions for racism or anti-Semitism

More trauma was to come when she was 16 and her mother Pierrette ran off with the man writing a biography of Jean-Marie.

Jean-Marc Simon, Marine Le Pen's biographer, says: "[The] brutal departure of the mother was a drama for Marine.

"She was only 16 and very close to her mother - they had the same rhythm, they cooked together, she followed her as much as possible. So there's a huge psychological rupture there."

A direct result of that abandonment was to bring Marine much closer to her father, Simon argues.

The youngest daughter became steeped in politics from a young age, learning the trade by accompanying her father to meetings and rallies.

She first campaigned with him when she was 13 years old.

Defending illegal immigrants

After training as a lawyer at one of France's top law schools, she put herself on the list of public defenders ready to take any case where the defendant cannot afford a lawyer.

That meant acting at times for illegal immigrants, something some of her rivals in the National Front still hold against her.

Paris barrister Basile Ader, who faced Marine Le Pen across the courtroom on occasion, recalls her as "a good lawyer [who] worked hard, did her homework and was on top of things".

"I admired how she kept her cool and was able to maintain normal professional relationships despite being burdened with the notoriety of her father," he adds.

In 1998, she ceased practising and became the head of the FN's legal department.

After years of fighting and losing French parliamentary elections, she was elected to the European parliament in 2004 and remains an MEP, now representing North-West France.

A seasoned politician, she took over the party's leadership with the endorsement of her father, 82, who described her as "a different person... a woman, 40 years younger... and in tune with the times".

'Inherit or merit'

Policies

  • Reduce annual immigration to 5% of its current level
  • Create a new ministry of the interior, immigration and secularism
  • Leave the euro and restore the EU's national currencies

Ms Le Pen has objected to the use of the term "far right", arguing that it marginalises a party with significant support.

"I refuse to accept as inevitable the fact that we are being... consigned to the edge of political life," she once told the Associated Press news agency.

She has sought to emphasise the FN's opposition to the euro and advocacy of protectionism and the party today has grown to include Jewish members, for instance.

Nonetheless, Ms Le Pen has sharply divided public opinion with her attacks on illegal immigration, which she has likened to a tsunami.

"French citizenship should be either inherited or merited," she declared during the presidential campaign.

Her dark warnings about the "Islamisation" of France by its large Muslim minority have also persuaded many that, at core, the FN remains an extremist party.

Significantly, Marine Le Pen struggled to get the 500 endorsements from elected officials required to stand in the presidential election at all.

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