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France: Le Pen's embattled National Front rethinks itself

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PARIS (AP) — Marine Le Pen's far-right National Front party is holding a high-tension meeting that could lead to a name change and a rethink of the party's demand to pull France out of the euro.

The populist, anti-immigration party is trying to stay relevant after a roller-coaster election season, in which Le Pen dominated the presidential campaign but was crushed in the runoff.

Changing the party's name — associated with Le Pen's outspoken father — is among sensitive items on the agenda at a closed-door "seminar for reflection" Friday and Saturday at the party's headquarters in the Paris suburb of Nanterre. A final decision on such changes would be put to party members later.

Even more explosive is the party's internal debate over its anti-euro policy. That stance is believed to have cost Le Pen votes in the presidential campaign and has deeply divided party leadership — and worried global financial markets because of its potentially devastating impact on Europe's economy.

Le Pen acknowledges that leaving the euro makes people "anxious" yet stuck to the strategy during the campaign, largely on the guidance of party No. 2 Florian Philippot. Le Pen's clumsy defense of her anti-euro stance in the final campaign debate was particularly devastating.

Philippot is now under fire from some party heavyweights who accuse him of burying their presidential chances.

"Even if economically, we were right, politically we were wrong," Bernard Monot, a National Front economic strategist and European Parliament member, was quoted as saying in business daily Les Echos. He plans to push a more "euro-compatible" program at the party seminar.

Others, however, see leaving the euro as central to the party's nationalist agenda and economic strategy. And Philippot is threatening to quit the party if it reverses its position on the euro, arguing that would not be the solution to the party's problems.

Le Pen says the weekend meeting is meant to be "the basis of a re-founding of the National Front," but hasn't come down clearly on the euro issue.

Party vice president Nicolas Bay said Friday on Francetvinfo that a name change would fit with the party's growing electoral weight and shifting "vision of society."

The name is associated in particular with Le Pen's father Jean-Marie, who co-founded the party and gave it a racist stamp image that Marine Le Pen has sought to erase.

Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has been repeatedly convicted for hate speech, was ordered this week to stand trial on charges of provoking racial hatred over comments about a Jewish singer.

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