France’s Fillon under pressure to end presidential bid

Mr Fillon at a business conference on 1 FebImage copyright

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Francois Fillon has insisted that he was selected as party candidate in a vote involving four million people

French centre-right presidential candidate Francois Fillon has denounced a left-wing “institutional coup d’etat” as he faces mounting pressure to quit the presidential race.

He has become mired in a scandal surrounding claims that his Welsh-born wife Penelope was paid large sums over a number of years for “fake jobs”.

Far-right rival Marine Le Pen said he had lost voters’ confidence.

And there was stinging criticism from his own side too.

One Republican MP, Georges Fenech, said that Mr Fillon’s victory in the party’s primaries in November had become “obsolete”. He said the affair was not just a judicial matter but an ethical and moral one, and an urgent decision had to be made.

Recently the favourite to win the presidency in elections in April and May, he has now slipped behind Ms Le Pen and centrist Emmanuel Macron. Mr Fillon said he would fight the accusations “to the end” on Wednesday but commentators suggested his fate was slipping out of his hands.

Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon ridiculed the idea of a left-wing coup, saying it was “a bit curious to search for plots where there aren’t any”.

Mood darkens around Francois Fillon – by Hugh Schofield BBC News, Paris

Francois Fillon’s chances of political survival are hanging on a thread, and if you want to know why just listen to French talk radio.

This morning on RMC when broadcaster Jean-Jacques Bourdin took calls about Penelopegate, the mood was angry.

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Mr Fillon (right) insists that the employment of his wife Penelope (left) was above board

Caller after caller pointed up the vast difference in their own salary, and the money – up to €10,000 ($10,800; £8,540) a month – which Penelope Fillon took as her husband’s parliamentary assistant. “And I actually work!” said one.

And in the Republican Party, what was unthinkable a few days ago is now outwardly mooted: that Francois Fillon may need to step down and be replaced.

Read more from Hugh: Can Fillon survive?

And more on this story:

  • Enemies hope family affair will end Fillon bid
  • Who is French presidential candidate Fillon?
  • Who will be France’s next president?

TV news channels in France were running constant coverage of Mr Fillon’s plight, which began a week ago with an expose in satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine and has become the main story in the campaign.

The newspaper alleged on Tuesday that Penelope Fillon had been paid €830,000 (£710,000; $900,000) for working as a parliamentary aide first to her husband and then to his replacement as MP, Marc Joulaud, far more than it had originally claimed.

That was on top of the €100,000 that it says she was paid by a literary review owned by a wealthy friend of her husband called Marc Ladreit de Lacharriere.