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Les Républicains leader says he wants alliance with France's far-right National Rally

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The leader of France's mainstream right has said he would back an alliance with the far right in the snap legislative elections later this month, shocking opponents and party members and throwing French politics into further disarray.

Éric Ciotti's announcement, welcomed by Marine Le Pen as a "brave choice", is a historic departure for the opposition right and sparked accusations of betrayal from high-profile members of Les Républicains (LR).

Ciotti defended his decision to join forces with Le Pen's National Rally (RN), saying LR, fifth-placed in Sunday's European elections, was too weak to see off the "threat to the nation" from leftwing and centrist rivals. The parties could field joint candidates in the vote, called by the French president, Emmanuel Macron, after his centrist allies' defeat to RN at the weekend, or agree not to stand against each other.

"I believe that the country has never been so right wing. It expects the right, it expects rightwing action. We can no longer rely on impotence, on communication, on a form of immobilism that has led us to where we are now," he said.

"Our political family cannot continue compromising, supporting the government … Mr Macron has damaged the country and there needs to be another majority as soon as possible," he added.

Ciotti had to push his way through a furious crowd to enter the LR headquarters in Paris after his announcement.

Later on Tuesday, Jordan Bardella, the RN president, said: "I can confirm there will be an agreement between [National Rally] and Les Républicains." He said there would be "a certain number" of outgoing or nominated LR MPs who would be supported by the RN.

Asked how many, he replied: "Several dozen."

Ciotti's decision to ally the LR and RN brought furious reactions from leading LR ministers and MPs and is almost certain to shatter the conservative party that has produced four of the country's seven presidents, including Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy, since Charles de Gaulle left office in 1969.

The interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, accused Ciotti of "signing the Munich agreement", an appeasement deal reached in 1938 between Nazi Germany, the UK, France and Italy.

"He is plunging the Gaullist family into dishonour by embracing Marine Le Pen," Darmanin tweeted.

Rachida Dati, the culture minister and, like Darmanin, a former member of LR before entering Macron's centrist government, said the decision was "a terrible blow to my political family, the republican right".

Éric Dupont-Moretti, the justice minister, accused Ciotti of "dishonour".

"Offering General de Gaulle's party to Le Pen on a silver platter … shame now has a name … the extremists are dropping their masks. All republicans must rise to the occasion," Dupont-Moretti tweeted.

Xavier Bertrand, an LR regional president in northern France, had earlier deplored Ciotti's failure to firmly reject Le Pen's call for an alliance. "We owe our voters the truth," Bertrand said. "The DNA of the republican right is never the extremes, never the far right, never Madame Le Pen. If certain [LR representatives] want to stand with the RN they should say now."

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He added: "As far as I'm concerned, it is clear: never the National Rally. Not today, not tomorrow, not the day after."

On Tuesday afternoon, Marion Maréchal announced that talks between her, representing the ultra-right Reconquer party founded by Éric Zemmour, and the RN had failed and there would be no alliance.

"Despite my attempts at negotiation, the regrettable argument was given that they do not wish any association, direct or indirect, with Éric Zemmour," she wrote in a statement.

Political parties have been scrambling to form alliances after Macron's shock decision to dissolve parliament on Sunday, engaging in what the French media are calling a "national seduction" campaign - a race to pick up potential candidates before 16 June, the deadline for declarations. The official election campaign will begin on 17 June and the two-round vote takes place on 30 June and 7 July.

On the left, party leaders, including socialists, communists and the hard left, were reported to have formed a "popular front" to field a single candidate. It was unclear if La France Insoumise (LFI) had joined the alliance and what role if any the party's leader, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, would play.

Mélenchon was scathing about his leftwing rivals, particularly the Socialist party (PS) candidate Raphaël Glucksmann, during the European campaign.

However, the ink was barely dry on reports of a leftwing alliance when Glucksmann insisted there was no formal agreement and ruled out taking part in any pact with LFI.

French far-right leader Jordan Bardella says he is interested in pact with Les Républicains - video

Macron was due to give a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, but postponed it until Wednesday. The Élysée said the president would make three "election interventions" every week until the election. In an interview with Le Figaro on Tuesday he said he was out to win the vote.

A Harris Interactive poll suggested the RN could win 34% of votes, well ahead of any leftwing alliance on 22%, Macron's Renaissance on 19% and LR on 9%.

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