French far-right drops candidate over `monkey` slur

France`s far-right National Front on Friday dropped a candidate from the municipal elections due in March after she compared the country`s black justice minister to a monkey.

Paris: France`s far-right National Front on Friday dropped a candidate from the municipal elections due in March after she compared the country`s black justice minister to a monkey.

The anti-immigration eurosceptic party led by Marine Le Pen is desperately seeking a makeover to broaden its voter appeal and dispel its xenophobic image.

The National Front recently won a key by-election and is tipped to be the leading French party in European elections also due next year, according to a new poll.

Anne-Sophie Leclere, the FN candidate for Rethel in the northeastern Ardennes region provoked a storm by comparing Justice Minister Christiane Taubira to a monkey on French television.

She has also owned up to a photo-montage showing Taubira, who is from French Guiana, alongside a baby monkey which was posted on her Facebook page.

The caption underneath the baby monkey said "At 18 months," while the one under Taubira`s photograph read "Now".

The 33-year-old mother-of-three told France 2`s Envoye Special (Special Correspondent) programme she would prefer to see Taubira "in a tree swinging from the branches rather than in government."

"She is wild," Leclere said, adding: "I have black friends and it doesn`t mean I call them monkeys."

Florian Philippot, the National Front`s vice-president, said the choice of Leclere as a candidate had been a "casting error".

Leclere will face a disciplinary hearing. She officially joined the party in 2012 and was named a candidate for last year`s legislative elections only three months later.

The incident came on the heels of insults and attacks against Italy`s first black minister, Cecile Kyenge, which sparked a pledge by 17 European countries to fight racism.

The attacks against the Congolese-born Kyenge have ranged from a senior member of the far-right Northern League party likening her to an orangutan, to having bananas thrown at her and nooses hung in a town where she was due to speak.

In a climate of growing outrage and concern over the rise of racism and xenophobia in Europe, the FN has increasingly taken a hard line on slurs expressed by its members.

In September it dropped another candidate for posting a photo on his Facebook page showing a burning Israeli flag with the caption "This is France" -- an allusion to the country`s large Muslim community, the biggest in western Europe.

The party has also expelled activists for making bigoted public statements and the FN lists in next year`s municipal elections will include a handful of ethnic minority candidates.

The party`s image has long been closely linked to the personality of its founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has faced a string of convictions for incitement to racial hatred and Holocaust denial.