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Macron faces down booing, whistles from hostile French mayors

PARIS (Reuters) - French presidential election frontrunner Emmanuel Macron faced down booing and whistles of disapproval from an audience of hundreds of mayors on Wednesday, insisting he would aim to cut local authorities’ spending and scale back a household tax.

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Speaking before the influential grouping, Macron, a centrist who is running as an independent, repeated his plans to exempt 80 percent of households from a local council tax - an unpopular proposal among local officials who value one of the few levies not set by Paris.

After this prompted boos from some of the audience, Macron, a 39-year-old former banker and political novice, said: “I’m among the few politicians who refuse to have my opponents booed in my rallies, so I’m not coming in front of French mayors to get booed, to be frank,” he said

“I’m coming here and showing respect, so I’m asking for the same thing in return,” he said, with many mayors giving him a round of applause this time.

The youthful Macron, who has no strong party machine behind him and has never held elected office, is under pressure to show he has the authority as well as freshness to stand up to veterans of the political establishment, to which he owes little loyalty.

Mayors represent more than 36,000 towns but are often accused by the central government of being responsible for out-of-control spending on grandiose local infrastructure projects and providing cushy jobs.

Macron reiterated his plan to cut local spending by 10 billion euros ($10.79 billion) over the next five years and said he wanted mayors to commit to reducing their operating costs, sparking more boos and whistles from among the 700 officials.

But Macron stood his ground. “I’m not going to lie to you. Anybody who tells you today that no effort should be made on public spending by the state or local authorities is not telling you the truth.”

Macron, who was criticised by opponents after a TV debate on Monday for sounding vague or expressing agreement with his rivals on some issues to the point of lacking coherence, sought to strike a decisive tone.

“People sometimes have a go at me - this has happened especially in the last few days - for agreeing with everybody. Well maybe we won’t agree on this today then,” he said.

Other presidential election candidates due to address the gathering in Paris included conservative candidate Francois Fillon and Socialist Benoit Hamon.

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Reporting by Michel Rose; Additional reporting by Brian Love; Editing by Richard Balmforth and Adrian Croft