John Kerry meets with centrist French presidential hopeful

Le Pen herself has dismissed the inquiry as a "political" attempt to derail her presidential bid, in which she is predicted to win the election's first round in April but lose a run-off in May.

The reason for Kerry's visit with Macron was not immediately clear.

But he gets the vote of 71-year-old Joseph Rolland, whose son is a cattle farmer near Nantes, in western France.

According to Emmanuelle Schön-Quinlivan, lecturer in European politics at University College Cork, Fillon "said goodbye to the second round" with his latest speech.

The race for the French presidency is stepping up a gear this weekend with current polling suggesting the two movements that have dominated French politics since the 1950s are unlikely to get a candidate into the decisive second round of voting.

The announcement prompted one member of his campaign to quit, saying Fillon had gone back on his word. A further rally is planned on Sunday but Fillon had more bad news on Saturday when his Republican party brought forward a meeting to discuss the controversy engulfing their candidate. The right-wing candidate has questioned the motives of the judges leading the probe, labeling it a "political assassination" and has vowed to stay in the race.

As a Member of the European Parliament (MEP), Ms Le Pen is immune to prosecution during sessions of the parliament - a measure created to ensure the independence of members and protect them from pressure in form of legal threats. The MEPs' vote on immunity applies only to that case and not to another investigation on alleged fake job contracts in the European Parliament.

Until now, Emmanuel Macron has risen to popularity largely based on what he is not - he's neither left nor right, he has no party, and he's the only top contender not facing corruption investigations.

Macron also calls for closer ties to the European Union and for shoring up the eurozone, in sharp contrast with Le Pen, who wants to hold a Frexit referendum on leaving the bloc if it doesn't renegotiate French membership.

He also said he would tax big technology companies like Google or Facebook and renegotiate the EU-US Privacy Shield accord on the protection of personal data. "He's inexperienced, he's never been elected".

  • Leroy Wright