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France's Macron vows to end nepotism as scandal engulfs rival Fillon

Jean-Francois Monier / AFP | French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech during a campaign meeting on February 28, 2017, in Angers, western France.

A frontrunner in the French presidential elections, Emmanuel Macron, vowed Thursday to end nepotism in government, as it was announced his rival Francois Fillon would be charged over a fake jobs scandal.

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Macron, a 39-year-old centrist and former economy minister, who has been criticised for being too vague on policy, laid out his agenda for Le Parisien newspaper.

"We will forbid parliamentarians from employing their family members, to put an end to nepotism," Macron told the paper, adding that he also aimed to reduce conflicts of interest by prohibiting deputies from carrying out advisory activities.

Profile: Emmanuel Macron

Macron's agenda comes as a poll showed that only one in four French people thought embattled rightwing candidate Fillon, once considered a favourite, should carry on his presidential bid.

French media has reported that Penelope Fillon, the conservative candidate’s Welsh-born wife, was paid almost €1 million to serve for several years as his parliamentary assistant, a job she may never have performed. Further investigations in the so-called Penelopegate scandal have found no evidence she carried out any government work and Mrs Fillon has denied, in a statement captured on film, ever having worked as an assistant to her husband. A source close to the probe told Agence France-Presse Wednesday that Mrs Fillon has also received a summons and is due to be placed under formal investigation.

Two of Fillon’s five children were also employed as parliamentary assistants, earning an additional €84,000 while their father served in the Senate.

Fillon said on Wednesday that charges against him were set to be announced on March 15 but that he was a victim of "political assassination" and vowed to stay in the race.

Fillon's being summoned means that investigating magistrates believe there is enough evidence to charge him for embezzlement of public funds, which could lead to a trial.

In an Elysée Palace statement, President François Hollande defended France’s judicial system against Fillon’s allegations of bias.

“As guarantor of the independence of the judicial authorities, I want to speak out against any calling into question of the judges... Being a presidential candidate doesn’t authorise you to cast suspicion on the work of police and judges” Hollande said, never referring to the former prime minister by name.

Analysts have said either Macron or far-right candidate Marine le Pen are best placed to benefit from Fillon's woes.

Macron's whirlwind candidacy has caught France’s more established parties on the back-foot. Macron’s detailed economic priorities so far include new investments, battling unemployment and cutting spending.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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