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France's Le Pen loses ground in poll after state employee comments
[PARIS] An apparent threat by far-right leader Marine Le Pen to punish state employees who "persecute" political opponents may have eroded her support, according to a poll which found her first-round lead in France's presidential election slipping.
The poll of voting intentions by research firm BVA found Ms Le Pen garnering 26 per cent of the votes in April's first round, down 1.5 per cent from the last BVA poll on Feb 23.
It found independent centrist Emmanuel Macron gaining momentum, rising three points to 24 per cent.
Conservative rival Francois Fillon remained at 19 per cent and would therefore be eliminated from a second-round runoff to be held in May, in which Mr Macron was seen defeating Ms Le Pen by 62 per cent to her 38.
Another poll, by Odoxa, on Friday showed Mr Macron finishing ahead of Ms Le Pen in the opening round.
BVA said Ms Le Pen had likely lost support because of comments at a rally in Nantes last week in which she appeared to threaten to punish government employees who would "persecute" political opponents.
"I want to tell public sector workers who are asked by a desperate political staff to use the powers of the state to keep tabs on opponents, to organise persecution, low blows and state cabals against them, to keep out of participating in such excesses," she said.
"In a few weeks, this government will have been swept away by the election. But these civil servants will have to take responsibility for these illegal methods, because they are illegal and are putting their own responsibility at stake," she added.
Ms Le Pen refused to attend a summons for questioning by police last month over allegations that she made illegal EU payments to her staff and her lawyer said on Friday she had also refused to attend a summons by judges over the allegations. Some of her aides have been put under formal investigation over the affair.
The BVA poll was carried out between Feb 28 and March 2, only partly after Mr Fillon's announcement that he could be placed under formal investigation over allegations he paid his wife hundreds of thousands of euros of public money to do very little work.