April 28 (UPI) -- The leader of French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen's National Front party resigned Friday over comments denying Nazi gas chambers in World War II.
Le Pen stepped down from her position on Monday as chair of the right-wing party to concentrate on the May 7 runoff election against centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron. Jean-Francois Jalkh was appointed to replace her as party chief, but he turned down the role, party spokesman Louis Aliot said Friday. Jalkh's reversal came after the resurfacing on an interview given in 2000 in which he allegedly suggested that the use of Zyklon B gas, used in Nazi gas chambers, was "technically impossible" for use in mass killings.
In the interview, Jalkh said he came to his conclusion after speaking with an unidentified expert in chemistry.
On Friday, Jalkh said he had no recollection of the interview, which was published in the French newspaper Le Monde. The person conducting the interview in 2000, Magali Boumaza, a professor at Galatasaray University in Istanbul, said she retained notebooks she used at the interview, as well as a tape recording of Jalkh's comments, the Independent reported.
Holocaust denial is a crime in France, but the more immediate impact of the controversy is on Le Pen's campaign. In the final days before the election she is attempting to soften her party's right-wing rhetoric to appeal to a broader segment of the electorate. The action comes after years of maintaining the party's anti-immigration, populist stance while moving away from the anti-Semitic, revisionist rhetoric of her father and party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen.
Jankh is also one of seven people involved in an alleged illegal financing attempt for the National Front party, another distraction from Le Pen's campaign.
Macron is scheduled to visit a memorial Friday at Oradour-sur-Glane, a town destroyed in 1944, where 642 of its residents were massacred by Nazis.