- Title: French conservative favourite Fillon pushes back against opponent Juppe
- Date: 22nd November 2016
- Summary: FILLON TAKING STAGE
- Embargoed: 7th December 2016 22:15
- Keywords: Francois Fillon France election primary Alain Juppe rally Lyon Russia
- Location: LYON, FRANCE
- City: LYON, FRANCE
- Country: France
- Topics: Government/Politics,Elections/Voting
- Reuters ID: LVA00259J2N2F
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: France's frontrunner for the conservative ticket in next spring's presidential election, Francois Fillon, hit back on Tuesday (November 22) after a personal attack from his rival, heralding a hard-fought final week of campaigning before the primary run-off this weekend.
Fillon, who unexpectedly won the last vote by a wide margin against the then-favourite, Alain Juppe, were both known until now as mild-mannered former prime ministers.
Whoever wins the candidacy is expected to beat far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen to the presidency.
On Monday (November 21), Juppe started the war of words by branding Fillon's conservative social views and reservations about abortion as "outdated" and said his free-market economic policies reflected "a great social brutality".
For his first rally meeting between the two rounds of the election and in front of some 6,000 people, Fillon arrived in Lyon with former primary candidate Bruno Le Maire who has expressed his support for the former prime minister.
Fillon attacked the presumed prudence of his rival's economic proposals.
"Alain Juppe mistakenly judges my programme as too radical, too risky and so I retort that if we are not radical now, I wonder when we will be, I say to him that if we do not take all the risks now, then I ask myself when will we take them," he said.
Born in a traditionally Catholic region of western France, Fillon, 62, is backed by groups that oppose France's same-sex marriage law. He says he wants to tweak that law to limit same-sex couples' adoption rights.
Fillon also took a stand on the diplomatic front recalling the fact that Russia did not constitute a security threat and that he would not push the country away in the fight against Islamic State.
"To win this war we're going to need a lot of effort and many allies and among those allies is Russia, which we continue to sanction when it is Islamic State that we must defeat together. I hear the friends of my opponent suspect me of wanting to renew a normal relationship with Russia, made-up of honesty and cooperation. I leave them to their convolution, I will take all measures to protect the French people and I will use all the volunteer countries to bring down Islamic State," he said.
Fillon's comments are in tune with some in the French foreign policy establishment who accuse President Francois Hollande of pursuing an American-aligned "neo-conservative" agenda and thus weakening Europe as a whole.
Fillon meets Juppe in a runoff vote on November 27 for the conservative ticket.
But, given the 44 percent of the votes he secured in Sunday's first round of voting for the centre-right nomination, many see him as being in pole position for a showdown with far-right leader Marine Le Pen in the election next spring.
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