Jean-Marie Le Pen, the eccentric founder of France’s National Front (FN), was on Monday suspended from the far-right party for making inflammatory comments about the Holocaust.
It was not immediately clear how long the suspension would last.
Eighty-six-year-old Le Pen may also be stripped of his title as the FN’s honorary president after he last month repeated his view that the Nazi gas chambers were a mere “detail” in history, deepening a rift with his daughter, party leader Marine Le Pen.
A statement said that a special meeting of party members would be called “within three months” to decide if he should also lose the honorary status.
Le Pen responded furiously to the measures, saying it was a “criminal act”.
The veteran politician had on Monday been summoned to a disciplinary hearing at the headquarters in Nanterre, just west of Paris, but stubbornly refused to attend, calling it “detrimental” to his dignity. He also said he had no plans to retire from politics or tone down his opinions.
The hearing had been called by his daughter, who took the reins as FN party leader in 2011 and who has become increasingly frustrated in recent months by her father’s controversial remarks, calling them “political suicide”.
Le Pen senior’s comments have been especially damaging after Marine Le Pen has repeatedly tried to distance the party from its racist and anti-Semitic heritage as she plans a bid for the next French presidential election, in 2017.
“These [disciplinary] decisions show how far Marine Le Pen is ready to go to improve the image of her party,” FRANCE 24’s Jonathan Walsh said, reporting from the FN’s headquarters.
Opinion polls this year have suggested she will head the field in the first round of the presidential polls, but that she will not be able to muster enough support to triumph in the subsequent second-round ballot.
In an apparent move to minimise the attention on the elder Le Pen, who in recent weeks also defended Philippe Pétain – the leader of the French war-time government that cooperated with Nazi Germany – the party conspicuously dropped him from a line-up of FN leaders lining the stage during the party’s traditional May 1 rally in Paris.
Determined to upstage his daughter, however, Le Pen senior nevertheless strode onto the stage uninvited.
“I think that was a malicious act, I think it was an act of contempt towards me,” Marine Le Pen told French radio on Sunday.
“I get the feeling that he can’t stand that the National Front continues to exist when he no longer heads it,” she said.
She added that her father no longer represented the anti-immigration party, which opposes France’s membership of the European Union.
“Jean-Marie Le Pen should no longer be able to talk in the name of the National Front, his comments are against the fixed (party) line,” she said.
‘In the name of Jean-Marie Le Pen’
Le Pen senior insists that he has not spoken in any other name than his own for the past four years.
“Marine Le Pen is the party leader, she is the one who speaks for the National Front. I speak in the name of Jean-Marie Le Pen,” he told reporters as he left the party premises Monday after attending a meeting on the upcoming regional elections.
Last month, he agreed to give up seeking to stand for the party in those elections, but insisted he will not quit politics altogether and will continue as a member of the European Parliament.