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French presidential candidate Fillon tones down social security reforms message

Francois Fillon, member of Les Republicains political party and 2017 presidential candidate of the French centre-right, attends a lunch during a visit in Chantenay-Villedieu, western France, December 1, 2016. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

PARIS (Reuters) - Francois Fillon, the conservative candidate currently seen as most likely to win next year’s French Presidential election, said in a newspaper column on Tuesday that he had no plans to privatise parts of the French health system.

His column, published in Le Figaro newspaper, comes after French Socialist would-be presidential candidate Manuel Valls criticised Fillon’s plans to slash the public payroll and health spending, saying they threatened the foundations of a welfare state dear to voters.

“Instead of looking at the facts, my detractors suspect me of wanting to ‘privatise’ health insurance and cut down on spending there. This is quite clearly not true,” Fillon wrote in his column.

At issue are a few lines in Fillon’s election programme that drew little attention until he became the candidate for Les Republicains at the end of November.

In the manifesto, the former prime minister says that the public healthcare system has scarcely changed since it took shape in 1945, and cannot continue to operate under debts of 110 billion euros (92.29 billion pounds).

Recent opinion polls have put Fillon as most likely to beat the far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen in next year’s elections, which will be held in April and May.

Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta; Editing by Mathieu Rosemain