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Spotlight: France's embattled Fillon defies pressure to quit presidential race

Xinhua, March 6, 2017 Adjust font size:

Thousands of supporters on Sunday cheered Francois Fillon, the conservative contender in the French presidential race, at a big rally in Paris in a show of support while his party seniors are mulling a possible "Plan B."

At the Trocadero square in French capital, flag-waving crowd which party officials said numbered 200,000 people, gave a standing ovation to the scandal-hit politician, chant "Fillon President," or "Fillon holds out, France needs you."

"My dear compatriots, they think I'm alone, they want me to be alone, are we alone? Thank you for you all to always refuse to hear the sirens of the discouragement," Fillon said, addressing the crowd. "I am being attacked from all sides and I have to listen to you... I must listen to this massive crowd which pushes me forward, but I must also ask myself about those who doubt me and flee the ship. Their responsibility is huge, and so is mine."

Mired in a fraud scandal, Fillon, 63, suffered a severe setback this week after the Republicans senior chiefs suspended their support for his bid and are mulling a Plan B in which the moderate conservative Alain Juppe is well placed to represent the right-wing party in the upcoming presidential election.

"I will continue to tell my political family that this choice does not belong to them, because this choice is your choice, of your votes and through them your expectations. I am sure that it will be all of France's choice if we are able to gather ourselves in an ultimate push," Fillon said.

Recent polls showed that once the favorite to become France's new head of state, the 63-year-old ex-prime minister seems to have little chance to make it to the second round.

An Odoxa poll released on Friday showed three quarters of respondents said the ex-premier was wrong to stick to his presidential bid despite a legal investigation, with a majority of them believing he should be replaced.

In a separate survey, the pollster predicted Juppe, who lost to Fillon in the November primary, to top voting intentions in the first round if he replaces Fillon.

The so called "PenelopeGate" emerged on Jan. 25 when French satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine reported that Fillon had paid his wife and two of his five children about one million euros (1.06 million U.S. dollars) for their jobs as parliamentary assistants. However, there was no evidence indicating that she had really worked, the report added.

Fillon has repeatedly denied wrongdoing, denouncing "judicial bias" in investigation related to his wife's fake job allegation.


As the judicial inquiry is deepening few weeks ahead the election's first round, pressure is mounting for Fillon to quit the presidential race.

It was announced that the Republicans party's political committee will meet on Monday "given the evolution of the political situation just seven weeks from the presidential election."

Speaking to the BFMTV news channel, Christain Estrosi, a close ally of the ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy said the conservatives "will propose an initiative to indicate the way forward," and allows " a respectful withdrawal of Fillon."

"Fair or unfair, the situation of Francois Fillon no longer allows (us) to gather a majority of French," he added. "We do not have the time to debate who has the most talent. The easiest thing obviously... is the person who came second in the primaries and that quite simply is Alain Juppe."

In an interview with local broadcaster Europe1, Jean-Christophe Lagarde, head of the Union of Democrats and Independents, a center-right political party, said the Paris rally "won't change anything," as "with Fillon, failure is certain." "Today the question is about the candidate's ability to gather and not about ability to organize meetings. Even if there are 200,000 win a presidential election you need 20 million people," he said.

On Friday, Lagarde announced his party withdrew its support for Fillon after the presidential candidate was put under formal investigation in relation to his wife's fictitious work.

Fillon said he would comply with magistrates' summon on March 15, two days before the deadline to submit the requested signatures of 500 of elected officials to officially join the race to the Elysee Palace. Endit