Key Macron ally quits French government

French Justice Minister Francois Bayrou, a key ally of President Emmanuel Macron, told AFP on Wednesday he was quitting the government as his party battles a funding scandal.

Francois Bayrou was a close ally of Emmanuel Macron and helped his rise to the presidency

French Justice Minister Francois Bayrou, a key ally of President Emmanuel Macron, told AFP on Wednesday he was quitting the government as his party battles a funding scandal.

The move means Macron, who has pledged to clean up French politics after a series of scandals, loses a centrist partner as he seeks to pull together a government to push forward his ambitious pro-business reform agenda.

Bayrou's small centrist MoDem party was in an alliance with Macron's 14-month-old Republic on the Move (REM) movement, and Bayrou was one of three MoDem ministers in the cabinet named by the president last month.

The trio of MoDem ministers are now all set to leave.

Macron hopes to complete a partial reshuffle of his month-old government later Wednesday following a parliamentary election at the weekend that gave him and MoDem a commanding majority.

But with Macron's REM party alone winning 308 seats in the 577-seat National Assembly, it does not need the support of MoDem, which took 42 seats, to push legislation through parliament.

"I have taken a decision not to be part of the next government," Bayrou said, adding that he would hold a press conference at 5:00 pm (1500 GMT).

Macron has promised that his presidency will usher in an era of new, cleaner politics after a series of scandals involving ministers under his Socialist predecessor Francois Hollande.

Observers say that pledge makes it difficult for the president to keep MoDem in his government because the party is facing allegations it broke European Parliament rules by using funds to pay parliamentary assistants who are actually based in France.

- Key support in campaign -Another key MoDem figure, Defence Minister Sylvie Goulard, announced on Tuesday she was resigning because she could not remain in the cabinet with a potential investigation hanging over the party.

MoDem's third representative in the government, European affairs minister Marielle de Sarnez, is also set to quit, a party source said.

Bayrou, a veteran centrist figure in the French political landscape, was a key backer of Macron's movement during the presidential campaign, and his support was crucial in lending legitimacy to the inexperienced 39-year-old.

When Bayrou, 66, threw his weight behind Macron's fledging movement, the future president hailed it as a "turning point" in his campaign.

Government spokesman Christophe Castaner said Bayrou's decision to quit was a "personal choice" which "simplifies the situation".

"He wanted to defend himself in this affair," Castaner told Europe 1 radio.

The opposition Republicans seized on the resignations, calling them "a political scandal" and "a major government crisis".

"A quarter of the government has gone," said Laurent Wauquiez, the conservative party's vice-president.

Bayrou, who ran three times for president, has dismissed the allegations, saying there had "never been" fake jobs among his party's European Parliament staff.

Paris prosecutors opened a preliminary investigation this month into the funding claims that first emerged in the Canard Enchaine newspaper.

Earlier this month, Bayrou himself announced plans to ban lawmakers from hiring family members, one of a raft of measures aimed at chiming with Macron's bid to clear up politics.

Macron has said he wants to restore confidence in politicians, which was severely rattled by allegations that conservative presidential candidate Francois Fillon paid his wife around 900,000 euros (US$1 million) to work as his parliamentary assistant with little evidence she performed many tasks.

Fillon has been charged over the scandal and strongly denies the allegations.

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