Fillon's wife breaks silence over role in 'fake jobs' scandal

Embattled French conservative Francois Fillon told supporters Sunday to "never give up the fight" and gave no indication that he intends to quit the presidential election race over an expenses scandal.

He is under growing pressure as party leaders prepare a crisis meeting for Monday to discuss the situation ahead of a March 17 deadline when all presidential candidates must be formally endorsed by at least 500 elected officials.

He apologised to his supporters, saying that among the judicial investigation "you have been forgotten", but the 63-year-old said he was confident he would be proved innocent. "I don't think any of the forty-somethings in our political movement, who have talent, can take on the role to bring us together".

Sunday's planned demonstration has anxious some within the party that it will be hijacked by hardline conservative movements and several heavyweight party officials have said they will not attend. Juppe said he would have an announcement at 10:30 a.m. Monday.

"Elites are often more conservative and more prudent than the French people", he said, adding that this was a reason for "decline".

Mr Fillon was a surprise victor of the conservative nominating contest in November, campaigning as a "Mr Clean" unsullied by the legal difficulties of his opponents and pledging to slash the jobs of half a million civil servants.

Fillon, who was set to attend a rally of thousands of supporters in central Paris, announced on Twitter that he would appear on France 2 television's Sunday evening news.

"In the Olympics when the gold medal victor is disqualified then it's the silver medal holder that takes over", Lagarde said. "Any change so close to the elections is necessarily doomed to fail".


But Juppe, who is more centrist than Fillon, also has baggage - he was given a suspended jail sentence in 2004 over a party funding scandal.

Far-right National Front Leader Marine Le Pen also is polling well, but getting to the second round is not guaranteed.

His attack on the judiciary in particular has caused unease within his ranks and Sunday's demonstration has anxious some on the right that it will be hijacked by hardline conservative movements.

Mr Fillon showed no sign of backing down Sunday, however. Despite the pressure mounting, Fillon remained defiant on Sunday morning.

Penelope Fillon said she agreed to the interview to "put an end to the insane rumors", including that the couple might be headed for divorce or that she had been hospitalized.

Hundreds of left-wing protesters held a counter-demonstration across town to denounce widespread political corruption among France's political elite.

If Fillon steps down and he is replaced by well-known Republican Alain Juppe, polls suggest Juppe would knock Le Pen out of the race.

Yet a Odoxa-Dentsu Consulting survey last Friday showed that Mr Juppe would vault into the lead if he stood.

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