* Some party colleagues upset by criticism of judiciary
* Candidate told to leave out 'excessive sentiments'
* Confusion over alleged false report of wife's suicide
By Sophie Louet and Andrew Callus
PARIS, March 7 Senior French conservatives have
told their struggling presidential candidate Francois Fillon to
tone down the rhetoric, a party source said, after he repeatedly
attacked the judiciary and claimed that TV channels had falsely
reported his wife had committed suicide.
Fillon's campaign has been reeling for weeks from
allegations that his wife, Penelope, was paid taxpayers' money
for work she did not do. He has said the scandal and ensuing
judicial investigation amount to a plot by his political
opponents, and that the justice system has singled him out for
His comments have disturbed moderate members of his
conservative camp as his fortunes slide in opinion polls which
show centrist Emmanuel Macron favourite to win a run-off of the
top two candidates on May 7, beating far-right National Front
leader Marine Le Pen.
That discomfort was reinforced when, at a rally at the
Trocadero in central Paris on Sunday, some of his supporters
booed and whistled on cue as Fillon denounced the alleged
conspiracy against him.
His conservative party, The Republicans, closed ranks behind
him on Monday after a tense weekend in which some members had
called for him to step down.
But a source who took part in a party meeting on Monday
night said Fillon had been told to adopt a more moderate tone.
"If you want to bring the right and the centre together then
go ahead, without modifying your line, but leaving out the
excessive sentiments, and we will support you," the participant
said, adding that Fillon had agreed to do so and "assemble a
team uniting all talents and all sensitivities."
Fillon had earlier suffered a blistering attack from
fellow-conservative Alain Juppe that summed up the concerns of
the moderates about his aggressive reaction to the judicial
"His defence based on a supposed plot and political
assassination has brought him to a dead end," Juppe said. "As
yesterday's rally at the Trocadero shows, the core of The
Republicans' activists and sympathisers has become radicalised."
Fillon, like politicians worldwide, has also said the media
exaggerates his faults, but in an interview on France 2
television after Sunday's rally, he made a specific claim that
appeared to be false.
"My wife's suicide was announced on Wednesday morning," he
said in the interview. "My wife's suicide was announced on
Wednesday morning on television channels."
Reuters and French media were unable to find any such TV
In a tweet on March 1, Madeleine de Jessey, spokeswoman of
an ultra-conservative movement that backs Fillon's campaign,
referred to "journalists who announced... the suicide of
Penelope," but did not give any source.
L'Obs magazine said the de Jessey tweet was what prompted
Fillon to make the comment.
Fillon's camp did not respond to specific questions about
why he made the claim.
"It looks as if the Fillon camp is lapsing completely into
exactly what they denounce - fake news," said a report in online
magazine Marianne on Monday.
The left-leaning Liberation daily weighed in too, saying
"Fillon is in Trump-style alternative facts mode," a reference
to a phrase coined by President Donald Trump's adviser Kellyanne
(Additional reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta; Editing by Leigh
Thomas and Mark Trevelyan)