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France's New Far-Right Leader Quits Over Alleged Holocaust Denial

French far-right candidate Marine Le Pen's National Front party now has a new interim leader, after Jean-Francois Jalkh (right) stepped down over comments about the Holocaust. The two are seen here at the Elysee in 2014.

Jean-François Jalkh has stepped down as the leader of France's far-right National Front party, after controversy over his remarks about Nazi Germany's use of Zyklon B gas to kill Jews during World War II. Jalkh had taken over from presidential candidate Marine Le Pen just three days ago.

With Le Pen in a tight race against centrist Emmanuel Macron ahead of the May 7 election, accusations of Holocaust denial in her party's leadership have stirred memories of its founder, her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, whose xenophobic and anti-Semitic outbursts led her to oust him from the party in 2015.

Jalkh "feels that there isn't the necessary serenity for him to to perform this interim role," National Front vice president Louis Aliot told TV station BFM on Friday. Aliot, who is also Le Pen's longtime partner, said Jalkh plans to defend himself from allegations that he denied the reality of the Holocaust — an act that's illegal in France.

Jalkh's resignation came days after a 2000 interview was resurfaced by journalist Laurent de Boissieu, who said on Twitter that he found it in an academic paper that was later republished. In that interview, Jalkh was quoted discussing skepticism over the feasibility of using Zyklon B gas to carry out mass exterminations; he also cited Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson.

Questions about Jalkh's views this week prompted Le Monde to note that in 1991, he attended a commemoration of the anniversary of the death of Marshal Petain, who was branded as a Nazi collaborator and convicted of treason after heading German-occupied France's government during World War II.

The National Front will now be led by interim President Steeve Briois, a mayor of the northern city of Henin-Beaumont.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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