France's Fillon says would launch probe into Hollande if elected

Far-right candidate for the presidential election Marine Le Pen waves to supporters at the end of her speech during a meeting in La Bazoche Gouet, central France, Monday, April 3, 2017. It featured all 11 candidates for the race - nine men, two women seated in a semi-circle facing the journalists for nearly 4 hours.

One result of her surge in popularity is that it has outstripped support for one of her main ideas: ditching the euro and quitting the European Union, which remains a fringe position in France even as Le Pen has won greater acceptance in the mainstream.

Macron also landed blows on the far right Le Pen, telling her "you tell the same lies as your father did".

A scandal undermining the centre-right candidate Francois Fillon has changed the picture but not the outlook for the French presidential election: polls suggest that National Front leader Marine LePen will win the first round but lose to centrist independent Emmanuel Macron in a probable second round, set for May 7.

Le Pen lobbed several punches at Macron, her chief rival.

"Without a clever protectionism, we are going to watch jobs being destroyed one after another", she said. Investigators suspect Le Pen used personnel and resources paid for by the regional administration to prepare her 2012 presidential campaign, according to the newspaper.

Macron accused her of wanting to start an "economic war" with France's neighbours and denounced her nationalist stance, which he said had torn the continent apart in the past and filled graveyards near his hometown Amiens in northeast France.

However, events like a collapse of the EU's immigration deal with Turkey - which has prevented large influxes of migrants into the European Union, would certainly lead some voters to opt for Le Pen's anti-immigration rhetoric, and narrow the gap in the second round.

In a potential boost for Hamon though, Socialist Finance Minister Michel Sapin confirmed on Thursday that he would vote for the party's official candidate. Le Pen seemed convincing only for 11% of the French, that in essence corresponds to her electoral base.

The others are Jacques Cheminade, who rails against the "domination" of global finance; the New Anti-Capitalist Party's Philippe Poutou; Nathalie Arthaud of the Workers Party; Francois Asselineau, who wants to quit the euro and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation; and Jean Lassalle, a self-styled "farmer-politician" without political affiliation. Pledging to shrink the size of the state and tackle the debt and deficit issues head on, we would consider him to be the true reformer out of the three main candidates. "It is a president who after five years can say he has improved the life of the French", he said, complaining that in the debate nothing was said about France's public debt.

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