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National Front's euro divisions burst into open after French poll defeat

PARIS (Reuters) - Marine Le Pen’s defeat in France’s presidential election has triggered a rare public display of disagreement among officials and allies of her National Front on the far-right party’s policy of quitting the euro.

The European Union was the second most important issue for voters on Sunday’s runoff, according to a Harris Interactive poll, just after jobs and ahead of terrorism, migration, taxes and a wide range of other themes.

The election offered a stark choice between Le Pen’s plan to ditch the euro and break up the EU, and the centrist Emmanuel Macron’s pledge to deepen EU integration. His victory, by 66 percent to 34, was more comfortable than surveys had predicted.

While a large majority of National Front (FN) supporters back a return to the franc, opinion polls taken this year indicate that three-quarters of France’s voters want to keep the euro, including many older voters who fear that their euro-denominated pensions could be devalued.

Immediately after conceding defeat on Sunday, with parliamentary elections looming next month, Le Pen said she would overhaul the party without revealing what that would mean for policy.

But several key figures wasted no timing in airing their views.

Robert Menard, a mayor in the southeast who was elected in 2014 with FN support, tweeted that the FN needed “an adjournment” on the issue, adding that “Victory depends on it”.

In early 2016, Le Pen quashed internal criticism of her policy, which would allow France to devalue its currency and print money to finance deficit spending, and party officials by and large toed the line.

But then, as she looked to pick up votes between the first and second rounds of the election, Le Pen said scrapping the euro was not a precondition of her economic policies and could take some time.

Soon after the election defeat, Le Pen’s niece Marion Marechal-Le Pen, popular in the party and one of only four FN lawmakers, said her aunt’s change of course had come too late and failed to convince voters.

Pascal Gannat, an FN regional councillor, told France Bleu radio that Le Pen’s anti-euro stance and her desire for France to quit the EU were a “scarecrow” for both left-wing and right-wing voters.

Le Pen’s estranged father Jean-Marie, the founder of the party, also chimed in Sunday, telling RTL radio that her euro stance was largely to blame for her defeat.

However, Jean Messiha, who was in charge of drafting Le Pen’s presidential platform, insisted that the euro zone was destined to collapse and that ditching the currency was the right thing to do.

“Softening our position on monetary sovereignty caused us to lose votes. Giving up on it altogether would well and truly disqualify us,” he tweeted.

And her campaign director David Rachline on Monday repeated Le Pen’s stated view that the euro was an economic “dead weight”.

Additional reporting by Simon Carraud; Editing by Kevin Liffey