Far-right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen has announced that she is stepping aside as leader of her National Front (FN) party. The move comes just a day after she reached the second round of the French election, where she will face centrist Emmanuel Macron. Ms Le Pen told French TV she needed to be above partisan considerations.
Opinion polls suggest Mr. Macron is firm favorite for the second round but Ms Le Pen said: We can win, we will win. The French term she used signaled that the move to step aside would be temporary. She told France 2 that France was approaching a decisive moment.
Ms Le Pen said her decision had been made out of the profound conviction that the president must bring together all of the French people. So, this evening, I am no longer the president of the National Front. I am the candidate for the French presidency, she said.
Paris media said the move is intended to reaching out for the voters of candidates defeated in the first round, particularly those of the Republicans' François Fillon. Also on Monday conservative Fillon told party leaders that he no longer had the legitimacy to take the party into legislative elections that will follow next month's presidential run-off. He said he would become an ordinary activist like any other.
Ms Le Pen took over the FN leadership from her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in January 2011. On Sunday she won 7.6 million votes, the strongest ever result for a FN candidate, and 2.8 million more than her father won in 2002. Her party wants to slash immigration, clamp down on trade, and overturn France's relationship with Europe.
Meanwhile Macron, a former economy minister, is widely expected to win the run-off vote on 7 May. On Monday, he won the backing of President Hollande, to go with that of two defeated candidates.
President Hollande said the far right would threaten the break-up of Europe, profoundly divide France and faced with such a risk, I will vote for Emmanuel Macron.
He said his former economy minister would defend the values which will bring French people together. Fillon and Socialist Benoît Hamon both urged their supporters to vote for Macron.
His campaign promises include: Cut 120,000 public sector jobs and bring down the budget deficit; A €50bn public investment plan to cover job-training and shift to renewable energy; Slash corporation tax from 33% to 25% and let companies renegotiate 35-hour week. Unify the pension system; Bolster EU ties and the Euro-zone, higher tariffs to protect European industry, common border force.