1 big difference between French primary candidates: Russia

Fillon, a former French prime minister, won the first round of France's right-wing presidential primary, knocking his former boss Nicolas Sarkozy out of the race.

Fillon, 62, a social conservative who champions free-market economic policies, unexpectedly stormed to first place in the seven-strong primaries' first round last Sunday, with a strong lead on 71-year-old Juppe, who had been the favourite in opinion polls for months.

Alain Juppé, came second in the first round, seems less pleasing Vladimir Putin, who asked not to linger more than that on his personality.

"We must fight that fundamentalism, in the same way that in the past that we fought some forms of Catholic fundamentalism and we fought the drive by Jews to live in a community that did not respect all the rules of the French Republic", Fillon had said.

He is set to go head-to-head with former favourite Alain Juppe on Sunday, in a battle that is expected to decide who France's next leader is.

Juppe responded that cutting that many civil servants' jobs "would not be possible".

Characterising Fillon as being "very much different" from world politicians, Putin described him as a "closed up, non-public" individual "at first sight", but stressed that he "can be very tough in standing up for his point of view".

Both candidates have said they intend to restore Russian-French relations in full, a statement Putin has welcomed.

Fillon brushed off Putin's comments but said the West must work more closely with Russian Federation at a time when relations are at their worst since the Cold War.

Citing the two politicians' meetings on previous occasions, the media said the French politician "advocated a conciliatory position towards the Russian Federation of Vladimir Putin" and compared his victory to the outcome of the recent presidential elections in the US.

He said the growing economic strength of Asia should become Europe's main concern.

"My conscience is my business", he said. "But at the same time he has always appreciated the integration of Jews in France".

A re-election bid by deeply unpopular Socialist President Francois Hollande seemingly moved closer on Thursday after figures showed a slight fall in the number of unemployed in October.

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