By John Irish
PARIS Former French prime minister Alain Juppe sought to regain momentum on Monday in the battle for the centre-right's presidential nomination, accusing his rival Francois Fillon of pushing a "brutal" economic programme that would break France. Fillon, prime minister between 2007 to 2012 under Nicolas Sarkozy, won 44 percent of votes in the first-round of the centre-right's nomination race, some 15 percent more than Juppe, whom he now faces in the second-round runoff."On the economic front, his programme is of a very big social brutality. Cutting 500,000 civil servant jobs, taking working hours to 39 hours (from 35 hours), increasing VAT by 16 billion euros are measures of a certain brutality and which some can't be implemented," Juppe told France 2's evening news bulletin. "A break from the past should not consist of breaking the house. The house is fragile. You have to carry out reforms and mine are audacious, but are realistic and credible," he said.A snap poll by Opinionway after Sunday's results showed Fillon winning the head-to-head contest against Juppe with 56 percent of support, putting him in pole position for a showdown with far-right leader Marine Le Pen in the election next spring.
"What we're seeing today is the reconstitution of team Fillon-Sarkozy that led us from 2007-2012," said Juppe, who prior to the first round had been the favourite to win the contest."When you're prime minister for five years under one president, then you are obviously entirely accountable for what was done," said Juppe, who was defence and foreign minister during the same period.With just six days to go before the second-round, Juppe has little time to turn the momentum around, but he is clearly banking on trying to appeal to undecided and left-wing voters who may be tempted to turn out in higher numbers to oppose Fillon's socially conservative and pro-business policies.
For just two euros anybody can take part in the primaries. Tuesday's front-page of the left-leaning Liberation newspaper depicted Fillon as the late British conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher under the headline "Me, President" with his more radical measures put under the microscope.
Fillon has acknowledged that his measures would be tough, but says they would ultimately provide an electro-shock to the country.Juppe also said some of Fillon's positions on society including women and gay rights were "backwards". "Fillon is part of a traditionalist family. I am more open to modernism," he said, referring to his rival's "ambiguous statements" on abortion rights. (Additaional reporting by Yves Clarisse and Myriam Rivet; Editing by Sandra Maler)
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