Francois Fillon wins primary to become conservative candidate for French presidential election

He is now likely to face a showdown with far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen

Francois Fillon wins primary to become conservative candidate for French presidential election

Francois Fillon. Picture by Francois Mori AP/Press Association Images

Francois Fillon has won France's Republican presidential primary, after his opponent Alain Juppe conceded defeat.

Mr Fillon had won 68% of votes and Mr Juppe was on 32%, according to partial results from just over half of polling stations on Sunday night.

The pair, both former prime ministers, were vying to become the centre-right Les Republicains party candidate in the election.

Speaking after his victory, Mr Fillon said: "I must now convince the whole country our project is the only one that can lift us up

"My approach has been understood: France can't bear its decline. It wants truth and it wants action.

"I will take up an unusual challenge for France - tell the truth and completely change its software."

In Paris, Mr Juppe congratulated Mr Fillon on the "large victory", adding: "I finish this campaign as I began it - as a free man who did not compromise what he is or what he thinks".

He called for unity and calm after a campaign during which he had accused Mr Fillon of pandering to anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim feeling.

Mr Fillon is now likely to face a spring showdown with far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen, who will be seeking to build on that same anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-establishment feeling.

Ms Le Pen has also promised to lower the retirement age and guarantee France's welfare safety net.

The victory for Mr Fillon, who is married to a Welsh woman, comes against a backdrop of a jobless rate of 10%, weak economic growth, worries about immigration and globalisation and concern about the future of a costly but valued welfare state.

In response, Mr Fillon has proposed spending cuts, increasing sales tax, scrapping a tax on the wealthy, fewer restrictions on the working week and raising the retirement age to 65.

He also wants to limit the adoption rights of gay couples, to push for closer ties with Russia and to focus on tackling Islamic extremism and reducing immigration to France "to a minimum".

Mr Juppe had promoted a more liberal stance with respect for religious freedom and ethnic diversity, also attacking the "brutality" of his rival's manifesto.

Mr Fillon was the prime minister from 2007 to 2012 under President Nicolas Sarkozy, who was eliminated in the primary's first round a week ago and now is supporting him.

Mr Juppe was prime minister from 1995 to 1997 under President Jacques Chirac.

In the first round of primary voting on 20 November, Mr Fillon won 44.1% of the votes, Mr Juppe 28.6% and Mr Sarkozy 20.7%.

A second round was held because no candidate secured a majority.

All French citizens over 18 - whether they are members of the Republicans party or not - can vote in the primary if they pay €2 in fees and sign a pledge stating they "share the republican values of the right and the centre".

The current Socialist President Francois Hollande is expected to announce in the coming weeks whether he will stand for re-election.

His deep unpopularity has undermined the position of the country's Left and there have been calls for his prime minister Manuel Valls to contest the party's primary in January.