Far-left candidate Melenchon rules out asking struggling Socialist rival to back him

PARIS (Reuters) - French Far-left Presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon ruled out in a newspaper interview asking Benoit Hamon, the official Socialist party candidate he has overtaken in opinion polls, to pull out of the race and join him.

Melenchon, a political veteran, whose potential election score in polls has risen to as high as 16 percent in the past few days, told French weekly Le Journal du Dimanche: "No, I do not bother with him. My challenge is not to 'unite the left- wing'...it is to federate the people."

Asked if he would ask Hamon to join him, he replied 'no'.

Melenchon's backing stands at 16 percent, one percentage point off third-placed conservative candidate Francois Fillon, for the first-round of the election to be held on April 23, an Odoxa poll showed on Friday.

Separately a BVA poll released on Saturday showed Fillon at 19 percent and Melenchon at 15 percent.

BVA said official Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon, who is in fifth place on 11.5 percent and also has hard left policies, could be vulnerable.

Picked as the ruling Socialist party's nominee in January, Hamon has struggled to make any poll impact ahead the April/May vote after pushing a hard-left programme that has divided his party and split the left-wing vote with Communist-backed Melenchon.

Earlier this week a Harris Interactive poll found that 53 percent of voters felt Hamon should pull out of the race in favour of Melenchon, a firebrand left-winger who quit the Socialist party several years ago and is now candidate of the Left Party, or what the French call "the Left of the Left".

(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon)

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