French presidential candidate Macron target of Russian 'fake news,' his party chief claims

The current front-runner in the France's presidential election has been targeted by a misinformation campaign and hacker attacks, his party chief alleges. The defense minister has promised to invest in cyber security.

The frontrunner in the French presidential, Emmanuel Macron, has been the target of "fake news" spread by news outlets owned by the Russian state, the chairman of his party told reporters on Monday.

"Two big media outlets belonging to the Russian state, Russia Today and Sputnik, spread fake news on a daily basis, and then they are picked up, quoted and influence the democratic [process]," Richard Ferrand said.

State-owned news agency Sputnik ran an interview with Nicolas Dhuicq on February 4, in which the conservative French lawmaker accused Macron, a former investment banker, of being an agent of "the big American banking system." Russia Today reportedly also picked up the story.

The same Sputnik article also contained disparaging quotes on Macron's private life. Dhuicq claimed that the presidential candidate had an affair with a French businessman who had lobbied for the legalization of gay marriage. Macron had repeatedly denied these allegations. Same-sex marriage has been legal in France since 2013, but many conservatives - including  Republican presidential candidate Francois Fillon - opposed its legalization. 

Victim of hacker attacks?

The chief of Macron's En Marche! (Onwards!) also told reporters that Macron's campaign had been targeted by "hundreds if not thousands" of Russian hacker attacks.

In response to intelligence reports that the Kremlin directed a cyber campaign during the 2016 presidential race in the United States, French Defence Minister Jean Yves Le Drian promised to boost military resources to fight foreign cyber attacks.

Richard Ferrand claimed that Macron - a centrist who founded his own party ahead of the presidential election - was being targeted for his staunchly pro-EU views.

Former economic minister Macron has surged in recent opinion polls and become the favorite to win the two-tier presidential election, after French media published allegations that conservative Francois Fillon - long thought to be the favorite to win - had employed his wife in a "fake job" while he was a member of the French parliament.

Topping the opinion polls

A poll published by think tank Opinionway on Monday shows Macron placing second in the first presidential election in April and winning the second election in May.

In France, presidential elections are usually decided in two stages: unless one of the candidates receives an absolute majority in the first election, the two most successful candidates face each other in a run-off election.

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Opinionway shows Marine LePen of the radical right-wing National Front winning the first round with 26 percent. Macron is expected to receive 22 percent of the vote, just one percent more than Fillon Macron would be expected to clearly win the run-off vote against Le Pen with 63 percent of the vote.

Both Marine Le Pen and Francois Fillon have promised to have good relations with Russia during their campaign. Le Pen has also said that she wants France to leave the EU, which could potentially make the country more reliant on ties to Russia. The Front National has also  received loans from a bank with close ties to Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Politics

Emmanuel Macron

Macron quit as economy minister in August and launched his independent presidential bid in November. The 39-year-old centrist formed his own political movement, En Marche (Forward), and is seen as a reformer. Despite having never held elected office, polls have predicted his win in the final round of voting in May. He's voiced admiration for German Chancellor Angela Merkel's refugee policy.

Politics

Marine Le Pen

The National Front leader has adopted a more moderate tone than her anti-Semitic father, party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen. But she still takes a hard line on immigration, saying children of irregular migrants should not have access to public education. She also wants France to withdraw from the eurozone and have a referendum on EU membership. It's predicted she'll advance to the second round.

Politics

Francois Fillon

A surprise winner of the right-wing Republicans primaries, the socially conservative Fillon is seen to represent the interests of France's Catholic middle class. An admirer of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, he supports a liberal economic policy. Though Penelopegate and other scandals have marred Fillon's campaign, he has professed no wrongdoing and vowed to fight on.

Politics

Benoit Hamon

In a runoff against former French PM Manuel Valls in the Socialist primary, Hamon was the more left-wing choice of the two politicians. The 49-year-old supports a universal basic income and wants to shorten the traditional work week. He has also spoken in support of increased investment in renewable energy. He faces an uphill battle as many socialist politicians have voiced support for Macron.

Politics

Jean-Luc Melenchon

The Left Party's candidate landed fourth in the 2012 presidential elections. Melenchon, a current European Parliament member, believes the bloc's economic liberalism has stifled France. He hopes to profit from the center-left's disarray, but may split votes with socialist Hamon. Supported by the French Communist party, Melenchon advocates a shorter work week and climate protection.

mb/rc (AFP, Reuters)