France's Le Pen, evoking wartime Jewish arrests, re-opens old wounds

She later defended her comments in a statement, saying: "I consider that France and the Republic were in London during the occupation and that the Vichy regime was not France", referring to the government at the time.

She added that if anyone is responsible "it's those who were in power at the time, it's not France".

Le Pen's rivals also pounced on her comments. The British capital was where Charles de Gaulle, the leader of the free French forces, lived in exile during World War II while France's Vichy regime collaborated with Nazi Germany.

Macron is the front-runner in the two-round presidential election that will be held on April 23 and May 7.

Le Pen's rivals pounced on her comments, which could set back her attempts to clean up the image of her anti-immigration National Front and distance it from the anti-Semitic views of her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the party's founder.

The Jewish umbrella body CRIF, the French affiliate of the World Jewish Congress, sharply criticized Marine Le Pen's comments.

"This contradicts the historical truth as expressed in statements by French presidents who recognized the country's responsibility for the fate of the French Jews who perished in the Holocaust", a spokesman said, adding that the ministry regretted that anti-Semitism "is raising its head again today".

French voters go to the polls to elect a president on April 23. Independent centrist presidential candidate for the presidential election Emmanuel Macron attends a television debate at French private TV channels BFM TV and CNews, in La Plaine-Saint-Denis, outside Paris, Franc. In this framework, she said French Jews should be banned from wearing kippahs in some public spheres to preserve equality and facilitate further bans on wearing Muslim religious clothing. The disturbance delayed the start of Le Pen's program by an hour after it was moved to another venue.

More than 13,000 Jews, including 4,000 children, were arrested in and around Paris on the 16th and 17th of July 1942 at the request of Nazi authorities and put in the Drancy's cycle racing arena known as Vel d'Hiv, before being deported to concentration camps. But leftist firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon has seen his ratings surge and conservative Francois Fillon, damaged by a nepotism scandal, has also regained some lost ground.

Scuffles broke out ahead of a campaign rally by French Far-right leader Marine Le Pen, prompting the removal of more than a dozen protesters and the evacuation of the hall in Ajaccio, Corsica. Current president Francois Hollande has said what happened at Vel d'Hiv was a "crime committed in France, by France". The French Jews were then deported to Auschwitz.

The French-Mauritian writer Jean Marie Gustave Le Clezio, awarded Nobel Prize in Literature, announced in 2015 that he will give up his French citizenship if Le Pen becomes a president.

Socialist presidential contender Benoit Hamon said that when Marine Le Pen "doesn't like history, she twists it".

  • Leroy Wright