Le Pen under fire after comments about WW2 roundup of Jews

With only two weeks to go until the first round of the French presidential election, polls show a tight race...

Le Pen under fire after comments about WW2 roundup of Jews

Marine Le Pen. Picture by: Jean-Francois Badias/AP/Press Association Images

The French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen drew criticism over the weekend after denying French responsibility in a World War 2 roundup of Jewish people in Paris.

The infamous Vel' d'Hiv roundup saw more than 13,000 Jews arrested by French police at a Paris cycle track under orders from Nazi officers.

After decades of controversy over the matter, a number of contemporary French leaders - including current president François Hollande - have acknowledged that France played a role in the incident.

During a TV interview quoted by France 24, Le Pen argued: "I don't think France is responsible for the Vel d'Hiv [...] I think that generally speaking if there are people responsible, it's those who were in power at the time. It's not France."

Le Pen later defended her comments, suggesting: "I consider that France and the Republic were based in London during the [German] occupation."

The remarks were criticised by the French Jewish group the CRIF, who described the comments as "an insult to France".

Presidential favourite Emmanuel Macron, meanwhile, claimed the comments were "a serious mistake" and noted "some had forgotten that Marine Le Pen is the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen".

Ms Le Pen has publicly moved to distance herself from her estranged father, who founded the National Front.

Jean-Marie - who was expelled from the party in 2015 - has previously been convicted in France over remarks regarding the Holocaust.

While Marine Le Pen remains a divisive figure, the National Front has enjoyed notable success in recent years - including receiving more than a quarter of the votes in the 2015 regional elections.

Although she remains a favourite to progress past the first round of voting this month, polls have indicated she will face a challenge in the second round - especially if she faces off against Macron. However, the polls suggest a much tighter gap in a potential race between Le Pen and some of the other candidates.

Polls

The latest opinion polls from France have shown a tightening race ahead of the first round of the presidential election in two weeks time.

On April 23rd, voters will choose two candidates to progress through to the final ballot in early May.

With around a dozen candidates contesting the first round, polls in recent months have consistently shown Ms Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron as the favourites to progress. Both have repeatedly polled in the 23-25% range.

Opinion polls released this weekend, however, have shown continued gains for left-wing candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

Polls last month had shown Mélenchon - who is running under the banner of 'Unsubmissive France' - with support of around 11% (similar to the level of support he received in the 2012 election).

The latest polls - carried out in the aftermath of two major televised debates - have shown his support increase to 17-19%.

Thousands attended a rally in Marseilles yesterday in support of Mélenchon. He told supporters they had a choice beyond the far-right "condemning our great multi-coloured people to hate itself" and traditional free-market proponents, AFP reports.

Separately, thousands gathered in Paris to show their support for conservative candidate Francois Fillon.

The Republican was once a runaway favourite to become the next occupant of the Élysée Palace, but saw a significant drop in support amid allegations that members of his family were paid public money for "fake jobs".

Despite the allegations, Fillon has continued to poll in the 18-20% range - and the most recent polls show him effectively neck-and-neck with Mélenchon.

In the aftermath of Brexit and Donald Trump's surprise victory in the US, many have sounded notes of caution about the accuracy of opinion polls - with the Le Parisien newspaper earlier this year announcing they would not be commissioning any polls in the lead-up to the vote.