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France's Le Pen loses support in poll after state employee comments

French far-right Front National (FN) party candidate for the presidential election Marine Le Pen speaks at a press conference on in Paris, on March 2, 2017
GABRIEL BOUYS (AFP)
Drop likely due to threatening statements against state employees who 'persecute' political opponents

French far-right leader Marine le Pen saw her first-round lead in France's upcoming presidential election falling, after threatening to punish state employees who "persecute" political opponents.

26 percent of respondents said they would vote for Le Pen in April's first election round, the poll by research firm BVA found, down 1.5 percent from the last BVA poll on February 23.

Independent centrist Emmanuel Macron meanwhile gained momentum, rising three points to 24 percent.

Conservative rival Francois Fillon remained at 19 percent and would therefore be eliminated from a second-round runoff to be held in May, in which Macron is projected to defeat Le Pen by 62 percent to her 38.

BVA told Reuters Le Pen had likely lost support due to threatening comments at a rally in Nantes last week in which she hinted at wanting to punish government employees who would "persecute" political opponents.

"I want to tell public sector workers who are asked by a desperate political staff to use the powers of the state to keep tabs on opponents, to organize persecution, low blows and state cabals against them, to keep out of participating in such excesses," she said.

"In a few weeks, this government will have been swept away by the election. But these civil servants will have to take responsibility for these illegal methods, because they are illegal and are putting their own responsibility at stake," she added.

Le Pen has refused to comply with a summons to meet investigating magistrates over an expenses scandal, her lawyer said Friday.

Le Pen, who is riding high in the polls ahead of voting in April and May, has written to magistrates probing accusations she misused European Parliament allowances and told them she will not speak to them until after the election, lawyer Rodolphe Bosselut said.

Le Pen's personal assistant Catherine Griset was charged last month with breach of trust in the probe into allegations the National Front defrauded the European Parliament of about 340,000 euros ($360,000).

Le Pen, who sits in the European Parliament, has furiously denied accusations she broke the rules by using parliamentary funds to pay Griset as well as bodyguard Thierry Legier for jobs in France rather than at the European Parliament.

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