France's Fillon says government is behind media leaks against him

"There's a problem when there's a conflict of interest. but that is not the case with Francois Fillon", said Retailleau, who said a drip-feed of sleaze allegations was derailing the pre-election competition between candidates.

What you need to know about Francois Fillon and "Penelopegate" A smear campaign?

Mr Le Drian said the move was necessary because victory for far-right leader Marine Le Pen in the forthcoming election would be a "danger to France". "The state services", he said in an interview with France 2 television.

"In democracies, it is not acceptable that politicians only honour the will of those who elected them when it suits", Mr Hamon said in a statement.

Still unable to reverse dismal approval ratings ahead of the first round of voting on April 23, Fillon went on the offensive to denounce weekly "organized leaks" which he said violated the confidentiality of the judicial investigation of his affairs.

Fillon, once the front runner, has slipped in the polls since media reports in late January that he had paid his wife, Penelope, hundreds of thousands of euros of public funds for work they may not have carried out.

Bruno Retailleau, Fillon's campaign coordinator, dismissed a further slew of media reports suggesting conflicts of financial and political interest, saying that Fillon's lawyers would meet magistrates who are investigating the former prime minister. The former French prime minister easily won the conservative primary with 67 percent of the vote. "I blame the president of the republic [Hollande]", he said, claiming that by arranging the leaks the French leader seeks "to eliminate the candidate who represents an alternative".

The probe has since been widened to include possible forgery and aggravated fraud.

Two members of France's Socialist government deserted their party's official contender for the presidency on Thursday and threw their support behind Macron, significantly bolstering the 39-year-old's bid for the Elysee palace.

Polls see Macron, an independent centrist who was economy minister in an Hollande government for two years until August 2016, going on to beat Le Pen comfortably in the runoff by taking up to two thirds of the vote. A Harris Interactive survey showed the same outcome.

  • Leroy Wright