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Macron targets Marine Le Pen as Fillon edges towards exit

Presidential election candidate Emmanuel Macron has slammed far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who in turn continued to plough her anti-EU, anti-immigration course. The two seem set to slug it out up to May's second round.

Macron lampooned Le Pen's campaign slogan "In the name of the people," telling the 8,000-strong crowd (organizers put the number at 16,000) that "some today pretend to be talking in the name of the people, but they are just ventriloquists."

"They don't speak in the name of the people, they speak in the name of their bitterness, they speak for themselves, from father to daughter and daughter to niece," he said, referring to Le Pen's father Jean-Marie and niece Marion.

The 39-year old said Le Pen's anti-euro, anti-immigrant National Front (FN) party would be unfaithful to the French motto of "liberty, equality, fraternity."

"They betray liberty by shrinking our horizons, they betray equality by stating that some are more equal than others, they betray fraternity because they hate the faces that don't look like theirs," he said.

The former economy minister has seen his poll ratings jump in the wake of allegations that former frontrunner, conservative Francois Fillon, had paid his wife from public money for work she had not done.

Polls show Macron easily beating Le Pen in a second round runoff on May 7.

He also argued in favor of a stronger European defense policy and said he wanted all EU members to commit two percent of GDP to defense spending. On the EU, Macron said France was the cornerstone of the bloc "and must remain so."

Beyond left and right?

Macron distanced himself from the Socialist Party to create a party called En Marche! ("On The Move!") from which he has launched an anti-establishment bid for the Elysee Palace.

Macron also derided his Socialist opponent's proposal to tax robots to protect low-skill jobs. "Some jobs will have to disappear, just like candlers, coach-builders and water sellers disappeared," he said.

Speaking in Lyon the day before Le Pen addressed her own supporters, Macron said he was the only candidate capable of rising above the traditional left-right split in French politics.

"I am not going to say that the left or right is meaningless, that they are the same thing. But are these divisions not a hurdle?" Macron said. "I want to reconcile the two Frances that have been growing apart for too long," Macron said.

Watch video 02:17

Fillon's chances wane in presidential bid

Fillon fights on

Fillon faced mounting pressure from his own conservative camp to withdraw from the race on Saturday, as a senator from The Republicans party warned it could split if he refused to bow out.

According to a new opinion poll for the "Journal du Dimanche", the proportion of French voters who believe Fillon to be "honest" has plummeted to 23 percent from 50 percent last November. Pollster Ifop surveyed 1,007 people from February 3-4.

Fillon, a former prime minister, has vowed to fight on, defying public calls from a growing number of Republican lawmakers and officials for him to step aside.

Marine à la Trump

Le Pen meanwhile also unveiled her platform on Saturday with a Trumpesque call to put "France First," pledging to take France out of the euro zone, hold a referendum on EU membership and reduce the number of foreigners eligible to work in France.

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen at a session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France in January

Marine Le Pen at a session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France in January

A policy of "national priority" would give French citizens preference for public housing and other services over EU citizens and immigrants, and lower the profile of France's large Muslim population.

"The entire world - it's true for Brexit, it's true for Mr. Trump - is becoming conscious of what we've been saying for years," she said in a television interview.

"The survival of France is at stake. It's the first time we've been so close to the goal," National Front official Jean-Lin Lacapelle said.

Le Pen denounces what she calls the "ultra-liberal economic model" of globalization, open borders and "massive immigration," notably of Muslims.

Early polls consistently show Le Pen among France's two top presidential candidates, but suggest she'll lose by a wide margin in the May 7 runoff.

Watch video 01:19

Maverick Macron seeks French presidency

jbh/bw (AP, Reuters, AFP)

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