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French presidential election

Le Pen defiant as Fillon's chances wane

French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen has defied a European Parliament demand to refund 300,000 euros. A new survey shows previous front-runner Francois Fillon could be routed in the first election round.

Marine Le Pen looked set to lose 8,000 euros a month in European Parliament earnings from Wednesday after her Front National (FN) insisted she would not pay back 298,000 euros ($320,000).

That is the sum parliament said she misspent during its 2011-12 legislative period to employ an aide at her Paris headquarters instead of paying assistants assigned to EU parliamentarians in Strasbourg and Brussels.

EU authorities had given her until midnight Tuesday to return the money. Le Pen rejected that demand after blaming her "political opponents."

Pollsters forecast that the head of the anti-EU, anti-immigrant FN will make it through to the French presidential election runoff vote on May 7.

Fillon's chances dim

Ex-Prime Minister Francois Fillon, meanwhile, accused France's governing Socialists on Wednesday of sabotaging his previous chances in the election after a fresh survey indicated that he would be eliminated in the first round on April 23. Fillon had been the election's front-runner.

The survey, conducted by the Elabe group, showed Fillon currently third on 20 percent - down 5 percent from his position a month ago - and relegated behind the far-right's Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron, the fast-rising centrist former banker.

Participants at a conservative Republicans closed-door meeting on Wednesday said Fillon had accused the Socialists of conducting an "institutional coup d'etat."

"We know where this affair comes from, it comes from the government, it comes from the left," Fillon told his supporters, according to the AFP news agency.

On Tuesday, he told a business conference he was "calm" about the allegations and would await the outcome an investigation by financial police.

Watch video 06:23

Polls show Le Pen in presidential runoff – Q & A with French journalist Geraldine Schwarz

Fillon hit back once more over claims by the satirical newspaper "Le Canard Enchaine" that his family members were paid large sums for "fake jobs."

Edited speeches

The newspaper raised its alleged total of payments made to Fillon's wife, Penelope, over more than a decade to around 830,000 euros.

Fillon has argued that his Welsh-born wife "always" worked for him, editing his speeches and serving his constituency at Le Mans in northern France over a decade while he was in Paris.

French lawmakers are entitled to employ family members, but attention has focused on what work was actually done.

"Le Canard Enchaine" said it had found no one who recalled Penelope Fillon working at the National Assembly building.

The paper said two of the couple's five children - Marie, a law student, and Charles - had also earned 84,000 euros working as parliamentary assistants.

The Elabe poll put Le Pen for the first round between 26 percent and 27 percent, Macron as high as 23 percent, and Fillon on 19 percent to 20 percent. Also running is the surprise Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon who polls showed had little chance of reaching the second round of voting.

ipj/sms (dpa, Reuters, AFP)

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