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French presidential hopeful Le Pen names nationalist as prime minister

Marine Le Pen, French National Front (FN) political party leader and candidate for French 2017 presidential election, celebrates after early results in the first round of 2017 French presidential election, in Henin-Beaumont, France, April 23, 2017.
Pascal Rossignol | Reuters
Marine Le Pen, French National Front (FN) political party leader and candidate for French 2017 presidential election, celebrates after early results in the first round of 2017 French presidential election, in Henin-Beaumont, France, April 23, 2017.

French far-right presidential hopeful Marine Le Pen on Saturday chose defeated first-round candidate Nicolas Dupont-Aignan as her prime minister, a bid to attract his voters and help her to victory over centrist favourite Emmanuel Macron.

Dupont-Aignan is a nationalist whose protectionist economic policies are close to those of the National Front's Le Pen and who, like her, wants to reduce the powers of European Union institutions.

He scored 4.7 percent of votes in the first round on April 23, and announced on Friday, as widely expected, that he was backing her for the decisive May 7 second round.

"We will form a government of national unity that brings together people chosen for their competence and their love of France," Le Pen told a Paris news conference, sitting side-by-side with her choice for premier.

The first round elimination of two other main presidential candidates, the far-left's Jean-Luc Melenchon and conservative Francois Fillon, was greeted with relief by investors and EU partners of France, a founder of the bloc, a key member of the NATO defence alliance, and the world's fifth largest economy.

Le Pen had for months seemed sure of a second round place, even though the race was closely fought, and polls ahead of round one showed Macron with a far greater chance than Fillon of beating her next Sunday.

Melenchon, for his part, offered the prospect of a second-round choice between two candidates who would tear up international trade treaties and whose presidencies could be fatal to a European Union already weakened by Britain's departure.

Macron and Le Pen between them accounted for only 45 percent of the first round vote, and the battle is now on for the remainder.

Polls show Macron winning next Sunday with about 59-60 percent, but the momentum has been with Le Pen, who has clawed back about five percentage points over the past week.

END OF TRADITIONAL LOYALTIES

The presidential contest has blown apart traditional party loyalties. Voters now have a stark choice between a resurgent far right, once a pariah in French politics, and a man whose political movement is less than a year old and who has never held elected office.

It sets Macron's enthusiasm for the EU and call for pro-business reforms to boost growth against Le Pen's desire for France to close its borders to immigrants, unwind EU institutions and restrict imports to protect jobs.

"The May 7 election is about a European choice," said outgoing President Francois Hollande, under whom Macron served as economy minister from 2014 to 2016 before turning his back on the Socialist government to prepare his own presidential bid.

Dupont-Aignan, who stood in the election for his party 'Stand up France' said he had signed an agreement on the future government with Le Pen that took into account some "modifications" of her programme.

Dupont-Aignan is less hardline than Le Pen in some areas such as reintroduction of the death penalty, and in 2013 he said on twitter that his party "cannot align ourselves with the extreme right".

However, he is seen as having hardened his position on immigration since. Macron was on a campaign trip in central France where on Friday night he called politicians who do not back him "morally weak"

On Saturday, he said the alliance between Dupont-Aignan and Le Pen clarified the choice on offer to voters.

Macron's party En Marche! (Onwards!) has called on Le Pen to condemn comments her father made about a ceremony for a policeman who was killed in an attack in Paris last week.

Jean-Marie Le Pen, 88 years old and the founder of the National Front, objected to a speech made to the ceremony by the gay officer's partner.

"The long speech he made in some way institutionalised homosexual marriage, exalted it in a public way, and that shocked me," Le Pen senior said in an interview on his website that was aired on Friday.

"Marine Le Pen has still not firmly condemned these comments," a statement released by En Marche! said on Saturday.

Le Pen was asked on Friday whether the speech shocked her the way it did her father. She replied that, on the contrary, she had found it and the ceremony moving.

Controversial comments from her father on a range of subjects from criticism of gay marriage to his suggestion that World War Two Holocaust was a "detail" of history have dogged Le Pen's efforts to rid the party of its extremist image.

On Friday, associations made between the National Front and Holocaust denial returned to the political stage after one of its senior officials was forced to step aside to defend himself from allegations, resurfacing after more than a decade, that he had agreed with comments from a professor who has been convicted of incitement to racial hatred.

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