France's Jean-Marie Le Pen defends Vichy leader in memoirs

Jean-Marie Le Pen in 1972 co-founded the National Front, a far-right party now led by his estranged daughter Marine Le Pen

France's wartime leader Philippe Petain did not dishonour himself by signing the 1940 armistice that allowed Nazi forces to occupy the north of the country, former far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen says in his memoirs.

Petain "was legal and legitimate", the co-founder of the National Front (FN) party says in "Fils de la Nation" (Son of the Nation), the first volume of his memoirs set to be published on February 28.

For four years after Marshal Petain -- a World War I hero then aged 80 -- announced France's capitulation to Nazi Germany on June 17, 1940, he led so-called Vichy France in the centre and the south of the country, with its headquarters in the spa town of the same name.

Meanwhile the Nazis occupied the north of France including Paris, and the Vichy regime collaborated with their relentless campaign against Jews.

Petain passed legislation that saw Jews -- around 150,000 of whom had fled to the south believing it to be safer -- subjected to severe discrimination similar to that in the Nazi-occupied north.

Under Petain, the Vichy regime put to death up to 15,000 people and helped deport nearly 80,000.

According to extracts published Tuesday in the French press, the 89-year-old Le Pen writes: "I'm all for discussing the policy of collaboration, its faults and its excesses, on condition that we examine the faults and excesses of everyone."

When General Charles De Gaulle launched the French Resistance in his historic radio address from London on June 18, 1940, "I quickly realised that for Gaullists... the enemy was more in Vichy than in Berlin," Le Pen writes.

Le Pen, who in 1972 co-founded the far-right National Front now led by his daughter Marine Le Pen, adds that De Gaulle "remains for me a terrible source of suffering for France."

He also takes personal stabs at De Gaulle, saying that when he saw him for the first time in 1945 "he seemed ugly to me, and said a few banalities at the flag-draped podium. He didn't look like a hero; a hero should be handsome."

Le Pen, who is estranged from his daughter, has been convicted repeatedly for anti-Semitic and xenophobic comments.

He was booted out of the FN in 2015 for his views on the Nazi gas chambers -- he has called the Holocaust a "detail of history" -- and for defending the Vichy regime.

However a French court ruled the following year that he should be allowed to remain as the party's honorary president.