Fillon’s campaign relaunch marred by gifts of luxury suits

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Francois Fillon, former French prime minister, member of the Republicains political party and 2017 presidential candidate of the French centre-right, attends a news conference to present his "project for France" in Paris, France, March 13, 2017. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer
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PARIS (Reuters) – Francois Fillon outlined his plans to streamline the state’s role in France’s economy on Monday as he sought to revive his faltering presidential campaign, but again found himself on the defensive, this time over expensive suits he accepted as gifts.

With six weeks to go until the first round of voting, the former prime minister who was once favourite to win the presidency is battling to rally supporters and keep his centre-right alliance on his side after allegations of financial impropriety.

In a blitz of media interviews and a news conference, Fillon, an open admirer of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, spelled out his plans to reinvigorate France’s regulation-laden economy.

“I want to make 100 billion euros ($107 billion) of savings over five years and reduce by 500,000 the number of public sector jobs,” he said at the news conference.

“My programme is based on an ambition to make France a great political and economic power.”

He reiterated policies to end the 35-hour working week, a move that would be fiercely opposed by France’s muscular unions, and gradually raise the retirement age to 65 from 62 at present.

Fillon’s new offensive to put his campaign back on track comes two days before he is due to meet judges investigating the hundreds of thousands of euros of taxpayers’ money that he paid to his wife Penelope and his children for work they did for him.

The scandal, dubbed “Penelopegate” by France’s media, has tainted his reputation as a clean politician and knocked him from first to third place in opinion polls.   Continued…

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