The Latest: French candidates spar over corruption in debate

PARIS (AP) " The Latest on the presidential election in France (all times local):

12 p.m.

France's far-right leader Marine Le Pen and conservative candidate Francois Fillon are trying to fend off accusations of corruption by other candidates in the presidential race.

They both denied any wrongdoing.

The televised debate among the 11 candidates heated up Tuesday night when they discussed the "moralization" of French politics. Several candidates openly mentioned legal cases regarding Le Pen and Fillon.

Le Pen is embroiled in a set of corruption allegations, along with her anti-immigration National Front party.

Le Pen said she is "politically persecuted" and said that in any case, as a member of the European Parliament, "I have parliamentary immunity."

Fillon was given preliminary charges for allegedly giving his wife and two children government-funded jobs which they never did.

He said "I am entitled to the presumption of innocence" he said.

"I didn't acknowledge errors. ... I'm still here and nobody will come intimidate me. The French will make a judgment in a little less than three weeks."

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9:45 p.m.

France's top candidates for president are advocating opposite economic policies during a crucial debate.

Centrist Emmanuel Macron promoted pro-free market, pro-European views. Far-right leader Marine Le Pen expressed support for a "clever" protectionism.

The debate Tuesday night " less than three weeks before the first round of voting " featured the 11 candidates in France's presidential race.

Macron wants to cut business taxes, loosen France's stringent labor rules and boost negotiations between unions and employers to help create jobs.

Le Pen, who wants France to exit the European Union, proposed a tax on businesses that hire foreign workers.

She says her priority would be to cut taxes on French small and middle-size business.

The first-round vote is set for April 23. The top two finishers will go to a runoff on May 7.

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7:35 p.m.

The 11 candidates in France's presidential race are preparing to face off in a crucial debate Tuesday evening, less than three weeks before the first round of the election.

The debate, scheduled to last three and a half hour on news channels BFM TV and CNews, will focus on three themes: creating jobs, protecting the French people and the country's social model.

Polls suggest independent centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen are the two top contenders in the April 23-May 7 two-round election.

Conservative candidate Francois Fillon, battered by allegations that he gave his wife and two children government-funded jobs which they never did, is struggling to survive in the race.

He faces charges in the case, and has denied any wrongdoing.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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