A fiery orator but also a pragmatist, Marine Le Pen has steered France's far-right National Front (FN) from pariah status into the mainstream.

Despite her party's defeat in regional elections on Sunday, she sounded a typically defiant and vitriolic note, lashing out at the traditional parties for teaming up against her and vowing to press on.

"Nothing can stop us now. Election after election, the rise of the nationalist tide is inescapable," she thundered to downcast supporters after the initial results were released.

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