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French Presidential Front-Runner Denies Russian Media Accreditation


French presidential front-runner Emmanuel Macron

French presidential front-runner Emmanuel Macron's campaign has declined to give Russia Today and Sputnik press accreditation after his team found the Russian state-owned news outlets publish misleading information about the candidate.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called the denial of accreditation "outrageous" and "deliberate and bare-faced discrimination against Russian media by the presidential candidate of a state that has historically been vigilant when it comes to free speech."

Sputnik and RT were created by the Kremlin for foreigners and are available in several languages. Both have a French language website.

A Macron spokesman on April 28 described the outlets as a "two-headed entity" which issues Russian state propaganda and fake news.

In February, Macron accused the Kremlin of mounting a "smear campaign" via state media against the centrist former economy minister, a strong defender of the European Union.

Macron gave no specific examples of Russian media spreading fake news at the time, but a February 4 report by Sputnik quoted a pro-Putin center-right French legislator as saying Macron was a puppet of U.S. political and financial elites.

By contrast, Moscow has warm relations with Macron's rival in the presidential race, National Front leader Marine Le Pen, who met President Vladimir Putin in a surprise visit to Moscow ahead of France's April 23 first round vote.

Macron takes a hard line on maintaining EU sanctions imposed on Moscow over the Ukraine crisis, whereas Le Pen backs the lifting of sanctions and improving ties with Russia.

RT has issued several statements denying suggestions that it is part of a campaign to spread fake news about Macron.

"So this is how gracelessly freedom of speech ends in a country which prides itself on its freedoms almost more than it prides itself on its Camembert and Brie cheeses," RT's editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan said on social media.

Independent analysts are increasingly concluding that Macron has been targeted by the Kremlin. A cybersecurity research group this week said Macron's campaign was hit by a group of Russian hackers last month.

The Pawn Storm group, which has been linked to several high-profile attacks in the West, is also believed to be behind the attacks last summer on the U.S. Democratic National Committee, in what U.S. intelligence agencies said was an attempt to undermine Hillary Clinton's presidential bid.

Pawn Storm is widely suspected of having links to Russia's security services.

Moscow has denied any involvement in seeking to influence France's election, which will be settled in a second-round run-off between Macron and Le Pen on May 7.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters
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