Marine Le Pen spent much of Friday fending off controversy over past comments relating to the Holocaust allegedly made by a prominent member of her entourage.
Jean-Francois Jalkh who had only just replaced the French presidential hopeful as Front National (FN) leader, stepped down after an interview he reportedly gave 17 years ago came to light.
In it he is quoted as casting doubt on the reality of the Nazi gas chambers. The comments attributed to Jalkh, which were then published in an article in 2005, cite him as saying that he considered it technically impossible that the gas Zyklon B could have been used in mass exterminations.
According to Le Monde, Jalkh’s interviewer stands by her version and has recorded proof of his comments. The French newspaper also claims Jalkh once attended a ceremony commemorating the death of Marshal Petain, leader of the Vichy collaborationist government.
The row has revived the long-running furore, first sparked 30 years ago when Le Pen’s father called the Nazi gas chambers a “detail” of history, and which continues to beset the Front National.
The presidential candidate defended her short-lived replacement at the helm of the FN. “He is deeply moved by the controversy which he thinks is deeply unfair and will file a legal complaint against these allegations,” Marine Le Pen said.
Ahead of next weekend’s presidential run-off, Le Pen has been publicly backed by a nationalist candidate who won nearly five percent of the vote in the first round. “I will support Marine Le Pen, I will campaign with her on an enlarged government project,” said Nicolas Dupont-Aignan of Debout La France (“France Stand Up”).
The far-right contender has gone on the offensive this past week, actively seducing supporters of a defeated far-left rival with an aggressively anti-free market, anti-EU message.
Despite calls for voters on both political right and left to block the possibility of Le Pen winning the presidency, Jean-Luc Melenchon – who won the backing of seven million voters in the first round – again refused to explicitly endorse either presidential candidate on Friday. But he gave a strong hint that he would be voting for Macron.
Emmanuel Macron’s enthusiasm for the European Union and pro-business stance have seen him attacked from both far right and left.
On Friday he visited a French village preserved as it was following a wartime massacre that saw almost all its residents murdered by the SS.
“Deciding not to remember is to take the risk of repeating history,” the independent candidate said in Oradour-sur-Glane.
This visit too was attacked by at least one of Le Pen’s supporters. Front National ally and the mayor of Beziers Robert Menard – fined this week for inciting hatred after saying there were “too many Muslims” in local schools – tweeted that Macron in Oradour was “the most abject of distortions”.
Macron remains ahead in the polls – but he is under full frontal assault from Le Pen’s supporters who portray him as a centrist extremist, a champion of uncontrolled globalisation.