French centre-right senators back Macron's presidential bid

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Emmanuel Macron, head of the political movement En Marche ! (Onwards !) and 2017 presidential candidate of the French centre-right speaks at a meeting at Saint Denis airport as he campaigns on the French Indian Ocean island of the Reunion

Emmanuel Macron, head of the political movement En Marche ! (Onwards !) and 2017 presidential candidate of the French centre-right speaks at a meeting at Saint Denis as he campaigns on the French Indian Ocean island of the Reunion, March 25, 2017. REUTERS/Laurent Capmas

PARIS (Reuters) - The frontrunner in France's presidential election, Emmanuel Macron, received yet another boost to his candidacy on Sunday when nine lawmakers from a center-right party allied with conservative rival Francois Fillon decided to rally behind him.

The nine senators from the UDI-UC party wrote a joint op-ed in the Journal du Dimanche weekly to say they would support Macron, a former minister in Socialist President Francois Hollande's government, because of his pro-European stance and bid to go beyond the Left-Right political divide.

"Emmanuel Macron's method is the right one," they wrote, adding: "He wants to bring people together ... and trigger a new dialogue between the French people and their representatives."

Fillon was the frontrunner for France's April and May presidential election until an investigative weekly reported in late January that he had paid his wife as his parliamentary assistant for work she did not do. He denies any wrongdoing but magistrates put him under investigation, a first for a presidential candidate in France.

Macron, an independent centrist who created his own En Marche! (Onwards!) party last year, is now topping the polls and is forecast to beat far-right leader Marine Le Pen in an election run-off. The high number of undecided voters, however, means the ballot remains quite unpredictable.

On Saturday, Fillon's aides used an umbrella to shield him from eggs thrown by protesters in southwest France as the beleaguered conservative fell further behind Macron and Le Pen in opinion polls ahead of the April 23 first-round vote.

The UDI-UC has a total of 42 lawmakers in the French Senate.

(Reporting by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Mary Milliken)

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