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France's local elections have been inflamed by a quarrel between the man of the hour for the far-right National Front (FN) party and a government minister, who claimed the anti-European xenophobic movement has no other plans for French cities apart from forcing schoolchildren to eat ham.

Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, France's Minister of Women's Rights, lashed out at FN after the party recorded an impressive result in the vote, securing a town in the first round and leading polls in many others.

"What's their programme? To force all children to eat ham at the cafeteria? To force local libraries to subscribe to Minute?" Vallaud-Belkacem asked, referring to a right-wing magazine.

The 36-year-old minister of French-Moroccan origins, who is also a spokesperson for the socialist government, accused FN of housing a number of fascists.

"We know that this party [FN] has in its lists a good number of fascist candidates," Vallaud-Belkacem said.

"I urge all the electors to check who exactly we are talking about, [people] who made themselves known for demanding camps to concentrate Roma people and comparing Mein Kampf to the Koran," Vallaud-Belkacem said, citing controversial remarks made by two FN candidates in the run-up to the elections.

Her outburst was described as "delirious" by Steeve Briois, FN's mayor-elect in the northern town of Hénin-Beaumont.

"She lives on another planet," Briois told RTL radio. "This is why the socialist party loses. She talks about cafeterias when there is unemployment."

Briois was hailed by his party as the symbol of FN's historic performance at the ballots.

With 50.26% of the vote, the 41-year-old won the mayoral race inHénin-Beaumont, a former coal-mining town of 27,000 people which had been a socialist stronghold for decades.

Early results also put the party led by Marine Le Pen ahead in a number of mid-sized cities, including Avignon, Perpignan, Beziers, Frejus and Forbach.

FN came in second in Marseille, France's second largest city, and was in line to achieve its target of securing of 10 to 15 cities in the second round by Sunday 30 March.

Founded in 1973 by Le Pen's father, Jean-Marie, the far-right party had a previous best of four mayoral seats, won in 1997.

It filed candidates in only 596 of the more than 36,000 municipalities up for grabs and won 5% of the total vote, coming third behind the centre right UMP (47%) and the Socialists of President Francois Hollande (38%).

Le Pen, who has been working to clean up FN's longstanding image of a racist and anti-Semitic movement, celebrated the result as a major victory.

The National Front is taking root just as it wanted to do - and the crop is pretty exceptional," she told TF1 television. "It's the end of France's two-party system."