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Francois Fillon selected by centre-right to fight for French presidency

A former prime minister with a Welsh wife was selected as the centre-right's candidate for the French presidency on Sunday after he saw off his last remaining rival for his party's nomination.

Francois Fillon, a 62-year-old from Le Mans, beat Alain Juppe by winning 67% of the vote compared to his rival's 33% in Sunday's run-off.

He had garnered around 44% of the vote in the first round of the primary last week in which five other candidates, including former president Nicolas Sarkozy, were eliminated.

Mr Fillon's success now makes him, in the eyes of many pundits, the frontrunner to take the keys to the Elysee Palace next May when France chooses its next president.

President Francois Hollande, a Socialist, has been struggling in opinion polls after a term blighted by terror attacks in Paris and Nice that claimed hundreds of lives.

Current opinion polls suggest that far-right leader Marine Le Pen would win the first-round of voting in the presidential election in April but would lose a run-off to her opponent in May.

Unless the Socialist Party can recover momentum, that would mean Mr Fillon would be her likely opponent in the second round in which he would hope to assemble a coalition of voters as well as his base in the party now known as Les Republicains to keep Ms Le Pen out of power.

Mr Fillon, a father of five children from his marriage with his Welsh wife Penny, served as prime minister under Mr Sarkozy as did Mr Juppe, now 71, when Jacques Chirac was president.

Socialist Mr Hollande's victory against the incumbent Mr Sarkozy in 2012 ended 17 years of power for the centre-right but the terror attacks have seen a surge in support for Ms Le Pen's Front National which has campaigned on a platform of security and against immigration.

Mr Fillon, whose wife is from Abergavenny and met her husband during a year abroad working as a teacher in a school in Le Mans, emphasised family values and said France needed economic reform during his successful pitch for his party's candidacy.

Mr Juppe had plotted a more cautious course more likely to appeal to centrist or leftist voters if, as current polls indicate, the Socialists fail to make next May's second round.

Mr Fillon goes forward as his party's candidate for next year's first-round of presidential polling on April 23 when the field of candidates across the political spectrum will be whittled down to two for the decider on May 7.

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