France's far-right National Front (FN) party has boycotted a vote to dedicate a square in the southern city of Toulon to Nelson Mandela, saying the anti-apartheid icon was a "terrorist" in the past.

After Mandela's death in December last year, Toulon's centre-right UMP mayor Hubert Falco sought to name the square facing the city's new railway station after the former South African president.

The city council voted on the motion earlier this week, but without the support of the six nationalist councillors, who abstained.

FN councillor Aline Bertrand claimed that the naming would have unacceptably celebrated both Mandela's "past as a terrorist as well his policy of reconciliation".

Due to its use of violence during its fight to bring about political change in South Africa during the apartheid regime, Mandela's party, the African National Congress (ANC), was regarded a terrorist group by some western powers, including the US and Britain. However, both London and Washington later recognised the branding was a historic mistake.

FN's boycott was in retaliation for Falco's decision to change the name of a street that was dedicated to Raoul Salan, by the previous, nationalist mayor. Salan was a World War II general who fall in disgrace and became a terrorist during the Algerian War.

As a Colonel of the French army, Salan had a prominent role in the liberation of Toulon from the Nazis in 1944. He went on to become a General and one of France's most decorated soldiers, until he fell out with President Charles de Gaulle who dismissed him at the end of the 1950s.

Salan moved to Algeria from where he first led a botched coup against de Gaulle in 1961 and then became the leader of the extremist Secret Army Organisation (OAS), a militant group that violently opposed to Algerian independence and carried out terrorist acts in France.

Salan was captured in 1962, he was sentenced to life imprisonment and later pardoned.

Falco's forerunner, FN's Jean-Marie Le Chevallier, named a street General Raoul Salan in his honour.

The move was protested by rights groups and Falco changed the name to Colonel Salan to commemorate his role in the liberation of Toulon, rather than the man.

FN said that it was inconceivable for the city to praise all of Mandela's acts and pick and choose those of Salan's.

"Hubert Falco has refused our request to take back the full story of our great army soldier and defender of French Algeria," Bertrand said. "We cannot accept it!"

Campaigning against the European Union and immigration, FN came first in the EU elections, winning 25% of the French vote.