French candidate Macron wins key backer: defense chief

Independent French presidential hopeful Emmanuel Macron has won the backing of the country's defense minister, which could bolster voter confidence that the 39-year-old is presidential material despite having no party and limited political experience.

Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who is leading France's military operations against Islamic extremists in Syria and Iraq, announced his support for Macon on Friday in the Ouest-France newspaper.

Le Drian's move adds weight to Macron's centrist campaign, and comes after two other members of Socialist President Francois Hollande's government have backed Macron.

Le Drian said he agrees with Macron's pro-European views and thinks he's the best candidate to confront far-right National Front leader Marine le Pen.

Macron, however, is being careful not to associate himself too closely with Hollande's unpopular outgoing administration and the divided Socialist Party.

A former banker and economy minister with pro-market views, Macron is considered the front-runner for France's two-round presidential vote on April 23 and May 7. The top two candidates from the first vote go into a presidential runoff on May 7.

Macron was economy minister in Hollande's government from 2014 to 2016. He launched his own centrist movement, En Marche! (In Motion!) last year to prepare his independent presidential candidacy.

Le Drian's decision appears to symbolize the deep division within France's Socialist party, which is torn between those who back more hard-left policies —including Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon— and advocates of more center-left, pro-business views.

Polls suggest Hamon, who won the leftist primary in January, has no chance of advancing to the presidential runoff.

Macron has promised to renew France's political elite, who are seen by many ordinary people as too concerned with their own status and perks.

The French conservative presidential candidate and former prime minister, Francois Fillon, has seen his candidacy sink this year since facing allegations that his wife and children held fake government-paid political jobs for years. Fillon was once considered a front-runner in the race.

Macron says, if elected, his government would consist of only 15 ministers, a mix of political figures from the left and the right and others from civil society groups and business.



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