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Jean-Marie Le Pen: Contentious political figure

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(CNN) -- Jean-Marie Le Pen is a contentious figure in French politics. A far-right nationalist, he brought the Front National Party into the limelight in 2002 when he reached the presidential run-offs against Jacques Chirac.

The current campaign marks his fifth bid for the presidency.

Le Pen founded the party in 1972 and has served as a member of the European Parliament since 1984.

At 78, Le Pen is a veteran in more ways than one. Born in La Trinité-sur-Mer in Brittany, Le Pen was orphaned at a young age and raised by the state after his father, a fisherman, died in a mine explosion at sea.

At the age of 27, he was elected the youngest deputy of the French National Assembly. Le Pen left the post to serve as a second lieutenant in the French Foreign Legion, parachuting into Indo-China as part of French military action in the region in the 1950s. He also served in the Franco-British operation in the Suez and in Algeria.

Le Pen has had a colorful career. He made his first bid for the presidency in 1974 winning less than one percent of the vote. In 1976, he was the target of a bombing that leveled his Paris residence. During the 1990 Gulf War, he traveled to Iraq to negotiate directly with Saddam Hussein for the release of 55 French hostages.

An anarchist in his youth, Le Pen has been widely criticized for being highly xenophobic, blaming immigration for most of France's problems. He also received a conviction in 1997 for anti-Semitic remarks he made about the holocaust, calling Nazi gas chambers "a detail" of World War II.

In the 2002 presidential race, Le Pen made it to the runoffs with 16.86 percent of the votes, giving his party a mainstream face as well as sparking violent protests from a stunned voting public. Hundreds of riot police were dispatched to quell crowds of protestors and the public took to the polls in droves to vote against him.

-- Compiled by Zein Basravi for CNN

Jean-Marie Le Pen

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