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“I will not withdraw”

Fillon vows to stay in French presidential race despite scandal investigation

Fillon vows to stay in French presidential race despite scandal investigation

Conservative French presidential candidate Francois Fillon vowed in a press conference Wednesday to stay in the race “to the end,” despite facing a formal investigation over the job scandal involving his wife.

A onetime favorite in the race, Fillon’s campaign has suffered badly since reports emerged in January that his wife, Penelope, had been paid more than 800,000 euros ($860,000) in public funds for a role as his parliamentary assistant — in which she allegedly did little work.

Fillon, the nominee for the center-right Republican party and France’s former prime minister, has also faced questions over well-paid parliamentary jobs for two of his children.

Fillon’s continuing woes suggest he will fail to progress past the first round of voting on April 23, with pollsters predicting far-right candidate Marine Le Pen will face off against independent centrist Emmanuel Macron for France’s top job. But Le Pen, whose populist anti-immigrant, anti-European Union policies have alarmed France’s political establishment, is predicted to lose comfortably to Macron, a former economy minister, in the second-round run-off on May 7.

Observers had expected Fillon to use Wednesday’s press conference to announce he was bowing out of the race, days after the French financial prosecutor’s office announced it was opening a judicial investigation into the job matter. But in a fiery speech at his party headquarters in Paris, the embattled candidate revealed he’d been summoned to appear before judges on March 15 to be placed under formal investigation — a legal measure akin to being indicted. Still, he insisted, he would not step aside.

“I will not resign. I will not give in. I will not withdraw,” he said, describing the allegations as a “political assassination.”

“It’s not just me that is being assassinated – it’s the presidential election. The voices of millions of votes have been muzzled,” he said, claiming that the timing of the summons — two days before the deadline for presidential candidates to register for the April 23 election — was calculated to hurt his campaign.

Last month, the 62-year-old apologized for what he called an “error of judgment” in employing family members in his political work, but he insisted there was nothing improper in the arrangements.

The denials of wrongdoing have done little to halt the slide in support for Fillon, who has cultivated a squeaky-clean public image throughout his political career. Recent polls have predicted Fillon will finish third in the preliminary round of voting, eliminating him before the top two candidates face off in the run-off.

A poll by French pollster OpinionWay released Wednesday showed Le Pen taking 25 percent in the first round, followed by Macron at 24 percent, and Fillon at 21 percent.


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