A Bitter Family Feud Deepens Within France's National Front

(Adds Jean-Marie Le Pen statement)

PARIS, April 8 (Reuters) - A bitter family feud between National Front leader Marine Le Pen and her father Jean-Marie deepened on Wednesday as she accused the 86-year-old founder of the far-right party of sabotaging its efforts to move into the political mainstream.

Jean-Marie Le Pen, who last week defended a past comment that Nazi gas chambers were a "detail of history," was quoted on Tuesday as calling France's Spanish-born Prime Minister Manuel Valls "the immigrant" and defending Philippe Petain, leader of the war-time government that cooperated with Nazi Germany.

"Jean-Marie Le Pen seems to have descended into a strategy somewhere between scorched earth and political suicide," Marine Le Pen, who took over the party from her father in 2011, said in a statement issued by the FN in her name.

"His status as honorary president does not give him the right to hijack the National Front with vulgar provocations seemingly designed to damage me but which unfortunately hit the whole movement," she said of his remarks made in an interview with the far-right magazine Rivarol.

Marine Le Pen has tried to rid the anti-immigrant party of its anti-Semitic image and widen its voter appeal as she readies a bid for the French presidency in 2017. Polls suggest she could make it into the second-round run-off of a presidential election but is unlikely to win.

She added she would oppose her father's bid to lead the party in the southern region of Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur in December local elections where the party is hoping to make gains after strong performances in town hall and departmental votes.

Jean-Marie Le Pen said he would defend his candidacy at an April 17 party leadership meeting and dismissed the accusation that he was becoming a liability for the party.

"As has happened before, using the pretext of a media backlash over the 'detail' comment, some have chosen to throw the National Front into a crisis which could have serious consequences," he said in a statement.

Marine Le Pen already distanced herself from her father last June after a quip about a French Jewish singer that included an implied reference to concentration camp ovens. (Reporting by Mark John and Gerard Bon; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Leigh Thomas)