What happened today in France's presidential election

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French presidential election candidate for the right-wing Les Republicains (LR) party Francois Fillon delivers a speech during a campaign meeting on March 30, 2017, in Quimper, western France

With a little over three weeks to the first round of the French presidential election, the conservative candidate brushed off claims that Russia was interfering in the campaign.

Here are three things that happened in the presidential race on Friday:

- Russia claims 'fantasies' -

Rightwing candidate Francois Fillon dismissed accusations that Russia was interfering in the election as "fantasies".

Fillon, 63, who developed a cordial relationship with President Vladimir Putin when both were prime ministers, reiterated his intention to engage in a "serious and frank dialogue" with Russia if he is elected.

"We have to avoid fantasies," Fillon said at a press conference after the chairman of the powerful US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Richard Burr, alleged on Wednesday that Russia was interfering in the French election, adding to accusations that Putin tried to influence last year's US presidential campaign.

- Fishing for votes -

Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen told a meeting with local fishermen and fishery officials in the western Brittany region that if elected she would wrest control of the sector from the European Union.

"Who is best placed to determine fishing policy in France? French fishermen more than the technocrats of Brussels," Le Pen said, promising to develop better targeted fishing quotas.

Outside, protesters banged pots and pans -- a reference to the French slang for scandal, as her National Front (FN) party is embroiled in a number of financial probes -- and some traded insults with her supporters.

Le Pen, 48, has vowed to take France out of the eurozone and call a referendum on France's membership in the EU within six months of taking office if elected.

- Macron challenges Marseille -

The frontrunner in current opinion polls, centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron, is playing off France's two biggest cities in a bid to draw crowds to his campaign rally in the southern city of Marseille on Saturday. He has challenged residents to turn up in the same numbers as they did in Paris for a rally in December.

The two cities -- and their respective football teams Paris Saint-Germain and Olympique Marseille (OM) -- have a fierce rivalry.

"Don't think I am putting you under pressure here... but on December 10, Parisians turned out in large numbers at the Porte de Versailles," Macron said in a video addressed to the people of Marseille on his Twitter feed.

Macron -- not known to be a keen football fan -- said OM's match against Dijon that day was not an excuse for missing his rally because he would be attending the game too.