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France's Fillon overtakes centrist Macron in election ratings - poll

Francois Fillon, former French prime minister, member of The Republicans political party and 2017 presidential election candidate of the centre-right, attends a meeting focused on healthcare and health insurance in Paris, France, February 21, 2017. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

PARIS (Reuters) - French centrist politician Emmanuel Macron has lost ground to his closest election rival, conservative Francois Fillon, and might not make a May 7 runoff against far-right leader Marine Le Pen, an opinion poll showed on Tuesday.

The poll gives Fillon the position of favourite to win the presidency - a position he lost in the aftermath of a fake work scandal that engulfed his campaign four weeks ago. Others have recently shown him neck-and-neck with Macron

BFM TV said the Elabe poll it commissioned showed that Le Pen, who heads the anti-immigrant and anti-European Union National Front, was easily assured of getting through to the two-candidate knockout, by getting 27-28 percent of the vote in the April 23 first round.

But either Fillon or Macron would pick up votes from each other’s electorate and from the Left to beat her comfortably in the runoff - Macron with 59 percent to her 41, and Fillon 56 percent to her 44.

The poll put Macron, a former investment banker and economy minister, on 17-18 percent in the first round, with Fillon, a former right-wing prime minister, on 20 to 21 percent.

Fillon had been favourite to win the keys to the Elysee until late January when his ratings went into a dizzy spiral over a scandal involving payments from state funds to his wife and children for work they may not have done.

Fillon has apologised to the French people over the way hundreds of thousands of euros in taxpayers’ money were paid to his wife, but has denied that the work was fake and has said he did nothing illegal.

Writing By Richard Balmforth; Editing by Leigh Thomas and Andrew Callus