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France's Fillon refuses to quit presidency race as party looks for replacement

Xinhua, March 6, 2017 Adjust font size:

As the conservative heavyweights are mulling a Plan B due to fake job scandal that has engulfed their presidential candidate's bid, embattled Francois Fillon stressed "no one can prevent me from being candidate."

"No one has the power to force me to withdraw... It is not the party that will decide. It's not regional presidents or former primary candidates who will make the decision for me," Fillon told France 2 television.

"It's not behind the scenes that things will happen, but before the French," he added.

Meanwhile, the conservative contender whose campaign has been out of track, said he was working on "initiatives to bring my (political) family together," after a series of defections further hit his campaign 50 days ahead the presidential election.

Denouncing a plot against his presidential bid, Fillon said believing that he "is always supported by a majority of the right and center," after 200,000 people, according to his camp, flocked to the Trocadero square Sunday afternoon to show their support.

Mired in a fraud scandal, Fillon, 63, suffered a severe setback this week after The Republicans party 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.

Moderate conservative Juppe said on Twitter that he would hold a press meeting at 10:30 local time (0930 GMT) on Monday.

Later in the day, the Republicans party's political committee, including the primary candidates, will meet.

A Kantar Sofres-Onepoint poll released on Sunday continued to show Fillon losing his bet to overturn sliding popularity in the wake of "PenelopeGate." It showed that the former prime minister is set to collect 17 percent of the vote, down by 3 percentage point from a previous survey.

In a scenario where Juppe would represent the conservative in the presidential race, the former foreign minister would make it to the second round with 24.5 percent against far-rightist candidate Marine Le Pen's 27 percent.

Fillon, once the favorite to win the election, has been under fire since a French satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine, on Jan. 25, reported that he had paid his wife and two of his five children about one million euros (1.062 million U.S. dollars) for their jobs as parliamentary assistants. However, there was no evidence showing that Fillon's wife had really worked.

He will appear before investigation magistrates on March 15, put under formal investigation. Endit