- Title: French primaries frontrunner Juppe calls for unity across political spectrum
- Date: 18th November 2016
- Summary: CROWD SINGING FRENCH NATIONAL ANTHEM, "LA MARSEILLAISE" JUPPE SINGING ANTHEM WITH SUPPORTERS / SUPPORTERS CHANT "JUPPE, JUPPE, JUPPE!"
- Embargoed: 3rd December 2016 22:59
- Keywords: Alain Juppe Les Republicains primaries vote elections presidential France Lille
- Location: LILLE, FRANCE
- City: LILLE, FRANCE
- Country: France
- Topics: Government/Politics,Elections/Voting
- Reuters ID: LVA00358Z4GNB
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: The race to become the conservative candidate for the French presidency and likely favourite to win the presidential election itself was tightening, with centrist ex-prime minister Alain Juppe's lead shrinking as the primaries neared.
Opinion polls show him winning both primary rounds and then going on to win a probable face-off against far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen next May and become head of state.
But Juppe is seeing his lead eroded by two men who sit to the right of him in the political spectrum - ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Fillon, who was Sarkozy's prime minister between 2007 and 2012.
Juppe spent a good part of his rally on Friday (November 18) in Lille, two days before the Les Republicains party's primaries, taking a swipe at President Francois Hollande.
"I felt a little humiliated to see that during his farewell tour in the world and in Europe, President Obama did not go to Paris but to Berlin. It's a sign of the debasing of France," Juppe told a crowd of supporters.
France's ruling Socialists are deeply divided and seen as unlikely to figure beyond the first round of the election itself - leaving the way clear for whoever emerges as victor in the conservative primaries to face Marine Le Pen in the deciding round.
In front of 2,000 supporters, Juppe called for France's treasured value of secularism to be upheld.
"All religions must commit to respecting the laws and values of the republic and never encroach on the laws of the Republic to impose religious laws," he said.
Speaking in Charles de Gaulle's birthplace, Juppe drew parallels between himself and the respected leader. He extolled the richness of France, and the need to restore its hope and confidence.
"France is diverse and I will not relinquish this. We're not all the same, we're not from the same mould, we will not all assimilate in the same mould. We have different origins, different skin colours, different religions. This is a strength and this must be respected," he said.
Juppe is trying to draw votes from centrists or left-wing voters wary of seeing Sarkozy return as president or of Le Pen's National Front winning power.
"We've disappointed the French people in 2012. They perhaps voted for someone else. If they want to come back today, I tell them that we're opening our arms and we will build a wide majority from the right, the centre and the disappointed from socialism."
A flurry of polls in recent days have pointed to a tightening race in the primaries. The one with the biggest sample of voters, a Cevipof and Ipsos-Sopra Steria survey, showed Juppe scoring 36 percent of votes in Sunday's opening round, five percentage points less than in October.
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