French conservative presidential candidates hold final TV debate

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By Alasdair Sandford  with Reuters
French conservative presidential candidates hold final TV debate

Conservative candidates in the race for the French presidency held their final TV debate before two rounds of primaries which begin this weekend.

The winner is seen as having a strong chance of taking over at the Elysee next spring, with the left in disarray and a run-off against the Front National’s Marine Le Pen thought likely.

Three old hands are seen as favourites among a field of seven.

Former prime minister François Fillon has seen his ratings rise although he is still behind according to polls.

“I would say to the French people watching: don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid to go against the polls and the media who had already decided everything for you. Choose to vote for your convictions. That’s the choice you deserve, it’s the choice France deserves,” Fillon said.

Former President Sarkozy reacted angrily, describing as “disgraceful” a question on fresh allegations that his successful 2007 election campaign received illegal cash from Libya, casting doubt on the credibility of his accuser.

Businessman Ziad Takieddine has said suitcases containing a total of five million euros were handed over.

“Are you not ashamed of giving weight to a man who has been in prison, who has been convicted countless times for defamation?” Sarkozy said.

Another former prime minister, Alain Juppé, is seen as the frontrunner but has been losing momentum.

“To succeed we need to come together and that’s been the spirit of my whole campaign. Bring together the right and the centre of politics and that’s why I’m asking you to go and vote en masse next Sunday,” he appealed.

Opinion polls are being greeted with scepticism given the upsets in the UK and the US.

Anyone can take part in the primaries, the first such vote to choose a conservative French presidential candidate.

The presidential election takes place on April 23 and May 7.