Defiant Fillon says ‘no one’ can stop France election bid
PARIS – Agence France-Presse
AP photoEmbattled French presidential hopeful Francois Fillon vowed that “no one” could force him to quit as he dug in despite calls to withdraw over an expenses scandal.
The conservative was in a defiant mood after holding a rally in Paris attended by tens of thousands of flag-waving supporters.
“No one today can prevent me being a candidate,” Fillon said in a TV interview late on March, ahead of a party leaders meeting. Gillon repeated that an investigation into allegations he gave his wife a highly paid fake parliamentary job was “politically motivated.”
“Of course it is aimed at stopping me being a candidate,” said Fillon, who is to be charged on March 15.
Former prime minister Alain Juppe has been tipped as a likely replacement, with leaders of their Republicans party meeting Monday evening and Juppe also to make an announcement.
Fillon however dismissed suggestions the party could remove him.
“If the voters of the right and the centre wanted Alain Juppe, they would have voted for Alain Juppe,” he said.
He was criticized on social media after saying he was “not autistic” and saw the problems in his campaign.
Fillon, a devout Catholic, beat Juppe in the Republicans’ primary in November, pulling off a surprise victory by campaigning as a “clean” candidate.
He was the frontrunner in the presidential race until Le Canard Enchaine newspaper alleged in mid-January that he paid his wife Penelope and two of their children nearly 900,000 euros ($950,000) as his parliamentary assistants.
Senior members of Fillon’s party have called for the 63-year-old to step aside, with a poll released Sunday confirming he was hemorrhaging support and would be eliminated in the first round of the election on April 23.
Most surveys show far-right leader Marine Le Pen and 39-year-old centrist Emmanuel Macron would progress to the runoff on May 7.
Fillon had previously promised to quit if he were charged but has since pulled back from the pledge.
He portrays himself as a victim of injustice who intends to put his case directly to the people.
Earlier, Fillon gave a speech to tricolor-waving supporters at the Trocadero Square on the opposite bank of the Seine to the Eiffel Tower.
He apologized for the expenses scandal but said he was sure he would be proved innocent.
His team claimed 200,000 people attended the rally but AFP reporters put the turnout in the tens of thousands. Police said the maximum capacity of the square was about 40,000.
Fillon’s British-born wife Penelope, who accompanied him at the rally, broke her silence earlier Sunday, telling Le Journal du Dimanche she had carried out “a lot of different tasks” for her husband during his lengthy career.
She had also urged him to “keep going to the end” but said only he could make the final decision.
Police raided the Fillons’ country manor house near Le Mans on March 3 and their Paris apartment was searched a day earlier.
Despite Fillon’s defiance, there were fresh calls for him to stand aside.