By , ELAINE GANLEY
Published June 20, 2017
France's far-right National Front refused to let the party's co-founder Jean-Marie Le Pen attend a crucial meeting Tuesday, blocking him at the gate on his 89th birthday.
Le Pen, whose daughter Marine has run the party since 2011, said outside party headquarters that while he was forced out of the National Front in 2015, he had a right to attend because of his status as honorary president for life, confirmed by a court.
The meeting to hash out problems was called amid growing divisions in the party that worsened after Marine Le Pen's huge loss to Emmanuel Macron in France's May 7 presidential election. The session was seen as a first step toward a remake of the National Front, including a change in its name.
Had the elder Le Pen been allowed to attend the meeting of the anti-immigration party's political bureau, it would doubtless have increased tensions in what was expected to be a turbulent gathering, with some opposed to the anti-euro currency strategy that dominated Marine Le Pen's presidential campaign.
Seven working groups were set up during the nearly five-hour meeting, and were to report back in late July when "decisions will result," a statement said.
Speaking outside the gate, Le Pen noted that he lent the party 9 million euros ($10 million) for his daughter's failed presidential race and legislative elections, in which Marine Le Pen was one of eight lawmakers elected. The loan was from his funding group Cotelec.
He was kicked out of the party for repeating an anti-Semitic remark amid his daughter's effort to clean up the National Front's image.
With his trademark irony, Le Pen said that his daughter doubtless was offering him a birthday gift "by this particular delicacy of the heart."
The party has been hit with other setbacks, including the decision of Marine Le Pen's popular niece, Marion Marechal-Le Pen, to leave politics, and not seek re-election.
The victories for eight National Front candidates in Sunday's parliamentary elections cushioned the blows, but were unlikely to heal a fracture over the best direction for the party, and whether to jettison the strategy of Le Pen's top lieutenant, the increasingly divisive Florian Philippot.
The National Front statement said a much-awaited congress to give the party a new face, and perhaps eliminate some faces at the top, would be held in February or March.
Jean-Marie Le Pen said at the locked gate of party headquarters that leaders, his daughter included, should have resigned after electoral defeats.
"No one is irreplaceable," he said.