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In first, French conservatives pick a woman as presidential candidate

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By Euronews with AP, AFP
Valérie Pécresse smiles at the Conservative party Les Republicains party headquarters after being elected as the party's presidential candidate, Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.
Valérie Pécresse smiles at the Conservative party Les Republicains party headquarters after being elected as the party's presidential candidate, Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.   -   Copyright  Rafael Yaghobzadeh/AP

Head of Paris region Valérie Pécresse will be the presidential candidate of "Les Républicains," France's main right-wing party said on Saturday.

Pécresse won 61% of the votes in the final round of the party's primary election compared to 39% for her challenger Eric Ciotti, a hardliner MP from Nice.

It is the first time the French conservative party picks a woman to be its candidate.

"I am thinking of all French women today and I say 'thank you' to party members for their audacity," Pécresse said at a press conference after results were announced.

"The Republican right is back," she told supporters.

An experienced politician, Pécresse, 54, has been the minister for higher education, for the budget and was a government spokesperson under former President Nicolas Sarkozy from 2007 to 2012.

Pécresse's positioning on the centre-right could pose a challenge to incumbent President Emmanuel Macron, who managed to attract the votes of centrist-leaning "Les Républicains" supporters in previous elections.

But Pécresse is currently polling at around 10-11%, far behind Macron and far-right candidates Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour.

If elected by French voters, Pécresse vowed to “break” with Macron's policies while also warning voters against backing far-right candidates.

She said her first action as president would be to end France's 35-hour workweek so employees work and earn more.

She also has backed a tough stance on immigration, saying that people who entered the country illegally should be deported.

A supporter of the European Union, Pécresse left The Republicans in 2019 amid leadership divisions after the party had a poor showing in EU elections. She rejoined the party this year.

Les Républicains, which still head several regional assemblies and hold a majority in the French Senate, is the last of France’s traditional parties to choose its presidential contender.