France: Fillon declares victory in presidential primary

France's upcoming presidential primary election candidate of the right-wing party, Francois Fillon, centre, leaves after casting his vote for the second round of the conservative primary election, in Paris, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016. French conservatives on Sunday are choosing their nominee for next year's vital presidential election from among two former prime ministers with deep experience in government and differing views on how to prevent more terror attacks on French soil. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

PARIS (AP) — Former Prime Minister Francois Fillon has declared victory in France’s first-ever conservative presidential primary, beating a more moderate rival who had warned of encroaching populism.

Fillon enjoyed a surprise surge in popularity in recent weeks over longtime favorite Alain Juppe, also a former prime minister.

Fillon campaigned on promises of drastic free-market reforms, a hard line on immigration and Islam, support for traditional family values and friendlier ties with Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

In a victory speech following the primary’s runoff election Sunday, Fillon called for unity to defeat the far right and the discredited left.

Polls suggest the 62-year-old Fillon would have a high chance of winning the French presidency in the April-May election, and that his toughest challenge may come from far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

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