Le Pen, who will retire in January 2011 after the party elects his successor, is known for his anti-immigrant and extremist views.

He shocked many in France when he qualified for the second round of the 2002 presidential race, which Jacques Chirac eventually won.

Past militarism

His visit, which the Japanese prime minister, Naoto Kan, was expected to shun,
was arranged by the International Conference of Patriotic Organisations.

The visiting lawmakers were joined by members of a Japanese ultranationalist group called the Issuikai.

Some legislators, as well as hundreds of Japanese whose relatives and friends died as soldiers in the war, are expected to visit the shrine on Sunday to mark the end of World War II.

Pacifists and victims of Japanese aggression, such as China and the Koreas, say it glorifies Japan's past militarism.

Tens of thousands of British, Dutch and other European soldiers and civilians were captured by the Japanese Imperial Army as they swept across Europe's former Asian colonies at the beginning of World War II.

Thousands were executed, tortured and starved to death in Japanese prisoner-of-war camps.

In the past, visits to Yasukuni by Japanese politicians have provoked outrage from China, Korea and neighbouring Asian countries.