MARSEILLE Emmanuel Macron, the independent centrist candidate who is favourite to win the French presidential election, held a meeting with French conservative and security hardliner Christian Estrosi on Saturday during a visit to Marseille.
Macron has said he wants to bridge the right-left divide.
Estrosi is from a wing of French conservative politics that is far to the right of the Socialist government under which the 39 year-old Macron served as economy minister until last year.
Although a close ally of conservative former president Nicolas Sarkozy, Estrosi has also been among those calling for the current conservative candidate, scandal-hit Francois Fillon, to step down. He was booed while he spoke at a Fillon rally in Toulon on Friday night.
“We are responsible for, and concerned about, the interests of France,” Estrosi told reporters at the meeting with Macron, who was due to hold a rally in the Mediterranean port city later in the day.
Macron said that good citizens France’s republic “know what the dangers are for the republic and where the true enemies are”.
Security and immigration are hot-button issues in Estrosi’s Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region where support for far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen – Macron’s main opponent in the election – has made deep inroads.
Estrosi, president of the Riviera region, was vocal last summer blaming the Socialist government for lapses in security after a Tunisian-born attacker killed 86 people by driving a truck at a crowd.
Asked about the meeting, the Fillon team called it opportunistic.
“Macron is hunting on the territory of the right. But he is not the candidate of the right,” said Fillon spokeswoman Annie Genevard.
Last week, Macron won the backing of Socialist ex prime minister Manuel Valls, with whom he served under Hollande, a development the Fillon and Le Pen camps said shows he represents the unpopular Socialist president’s legacy.
In the 2015 regional elections, Alpes-Haute Provence Socialist party deputy Christophe Castaner, now a backer of Macron, withdrew the Socialist party list from the second round of voting, asking his voters to back Estrosi to keep the National Front from power.
Macron and Le Pen are neck-and-neck at the top of the opinion polls ahead of the first round of presidential voting on April 23. Fillon is in third place. Such an outcome would put Le Pen and Macron through to a second round runoff on May 7 which the polls say Macron would win.
(Reporting by Marc Leras, Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Andrew Callus)