France's Fillon clings to presidential race, admits errors
With the Eiffel Tower as a backdrop, French conservative Francois Fillon clung tenaciously to his presidential candidacy yesterday, urging thousands of supporters at a high-stakes rally not to flee his ship despite escalating pressure to step aside because of impending corruption charges.
Fillon's low-profile Welsh wife Penelope - accused of earning a generous taxpayer-funded salary for years for jobs she never performed - took an unusually public place at his side at yesterday's rally. She waved a tricolour flag as crowds chanted "Fillon, President!" and "We will win!"
The presidential candidate for the Republicans party acknowledged errors in judgment, but insisted he was being unfairly targeted in an election season. He also assailed conservative allies who have abandoned his campaign in recent days, throwing his candidacy into doubt.
The scandal has highlighted entrenched corruption in French politics. Those former conservative allies are disillusioned by how Fillon has handled the investigation into allegations he arranged fake parliamentary assistant jobs for his wife and two of his children.
If Fillon quits or is forced out by his party, that would plunge France's already unpredictable presidential campaign into unprecedented disarray, with just seven weeks before the first round of France's two-round April-May presidential vote. Fillon was once the front runner in the race, but his ratings have fallen since the jobs allegations were revealed by weekly Le Canard Enchaine in January.