Macron banishes pro-Kremlin media from campaign trail

Emmanuel Macron remains favourite to win the French presidency on Sunday, with polls showing the 39-year-old former investment banker stretching his lead over far-right rival Marine Le Pen to 22 points

French presidential frontrunner Emmanuel Macron's campaign has banished Russia Today and Sputnik, denying them accreditation after the candidate's team said the pro-Kremlin outlets publish misleading information.

A spokesman for Macron confirmed to AFP that the accreditation applications had been refused, a decision described as "scandalous" in Moscow by foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.

Sputnik and RT (Russia Today) were created by the Kremlin for foreigners, are available in several languages and both have a French language website.

Zakharova said that the necessary requests had been made by Russia media and as "other foreign media have not faced any obstacles, we consider these prohibitory measures to be targeted and open discrimination".

In February, Macron's spokesman Benjamin Griveaux accused the Kremlin of mounting a "smear campaign" via state media against the centrist former economy minister, a staunch defender of the European Union.

Moscow has been seen as a keen backer of Macron's rival in the presidential race Marine Le Pen, who met President Vladimir Putin in a surprise visit to Moscow ahead of France's April 23 first round vote.

On Tuesday, a cybersecurity research group said Macron's campaign had been targeted by a group of Russian hackers last month.

The Pawn Storm group, which has been linked to several high-profile attacks in the West, used "phishing" techniques to try to steal personal data from Macron and members of his En Marche! campaign, Japan-based Trend Micro said.

Pawn Storm, also known as APT28, is also believed to be behind the attacks last summer on the US Democratic National Committee, thought to be aimed at undermining Hillary Clinton's presidential bid.

It 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.