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Voters Still Unsure as Hollande Hits Back at Scandal-hit Fillon's Claims - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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France’s leader on Friday lashed out at presidential candidate Francois Fillon as an opinion poll showed that nearly half of all French voters have yet to decide who they want to be president with only a month to go until the election.

Fillon, who has slid from frontrunner to third in the race following “fake jobs” allegations, told French TV late Thursday that President Francois Hollande had headed a “secret cell” that was responsible for leaks against him.

It was a “scandal involving the state”, said the 63-year-old former prime minister.

“The press has been flinging mud at me for two months now,” Fillon told France 2, speaking as the first round of the two-stage election looms on April 23.

Fillon said that, according to a book out this week by “journalists who are far from being my friends”, Hollande had obtained the contents of wiretaps linked to judicial investigations “which is totally illegal”.

“We were looking for a secret cell and we found it,” Fillon said, referring to the alleged source behind a slew of accusations of wrongdoing that have mainly been made in the Canard Enchaine, an investigative and satirical newspaper.

Hollande responded furiously to Fillon’s accusations, saying he had exceeded the bounds of “dignity and responsibility” with his claims.

“I don’t want to enter the electoral debate… but there is a dignity, a responsibility to respect,” the president told French radio. “Fillon is beyond that now.”

French prosecutors have charged Fillon with several offences over accusations first made in the Canard Enchaine that he paid his wife Penelope 680,000 euros ($725,000) over 15 years for a fake job as his parliamentary aide.

It was revealed this week that the investigation has widened to include claims that the Fillons faked documents to support their case that she in fact performed duties to earn her salary.

Fillon has insisted throughout he did nothing wrong by employing his wife and also two of his children and has repeatedly claimed that he is the victim of a “political assassination”.

Meanwhile, an Odoxa poll, which came hours after Fillon’s attack on Hollande, showed that 43 percent of voters were undecided over which candidate to fall behind.

The uncertainty is a reflection of favorite Emmanuel Macron’s lack of political experience, a Socialist party that is riven by splits and in disarray, Fillon’s woes and a buoyant far-right.

Voter surveys show independent centrist Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen neck-and-neck in the April 23 first round, and that they would go through to a run-off vote that Macron would win easily.

Fillon lags in third and would be eliminated after the first vote.

Adding to the unpredictability, though, the Odoxa poll showed that 60 percent of Le Pen’s potential voters and 57 percent of Fillon’s had definitely decided on their candidate.

That figure fell to 47 percent for Macron, 44 percent for far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, and 40 percent for Socialist Benoit Hamon.

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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