Le Pen daughter takes reins of National Front

Marine Le Pen was on Sunday elected leader of France's far-right National Front party, which was started by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen four decades ago. His departure marks the end of an era for the anti-immigrant party that has shaken up French politics.

Reuters/Stephane Mahe

Party members gathered in the western city of Tours where Le Pen, 82, farewelled the party he founded in 1972.

Police were deployed around the conference centre, where rights groups and left-wing political groups planned peaceful demonstrations.

Marine Le Pen, 42, won the party’s leadership in a vote by its 24,000 members, beating traditional party stalwart Bruno Gollnisch.

Recent polls say about 17 percent of the French would vote for her as president ahead of the 2012 election.

"It's a fresh start for the Front. Our members want to win," said one young supporter.

The National Front made international headlines in 2002, when Le Pen shocked voters by coming second in the presidential election.

He also caused outrage with his comments on immigrants and Jews, once dismissing the wartime Nazi death camps as a mere "detail of history".

French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s hard line on Islam, crime and immigrants is widely seen as a strategy to stop the far right winning over voters in 2012.

Marine, a mother of three, is credited with offering a softer image of the party – although last month she compared French Muslims praying in the streets outside overcrowded mosques to the Nazi occupation.

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