PARIS Feb 8 Conservative French presidential
candidate Francois Fillon appealed to voters on Wednesday via a
newspaper column to back his campaign, after losing his place as
frontrunner over accusations of fake jobs for members of his
The scandal has forced Fillon to apologise and his
popularity ratings have plunged. Opinion polls show independent
centrist Emmanuel Macron as the likely winner of the April-May
election, beating far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen
in the second round by a two-thirds majority.
"I have decided not to give in to intimidation and pressure.
I have chosen to stand in front of the French, to face their
judgment," Fillon said in the Ouest-France regional daily,
France's best-selling paper and widely read in his western
Seeking to regain the offensive and show he had the backing
of his party's stalwarts, Fillon on Tuesday visited the
Champagne region, flanked by local member of parliament Francois
Baroin, whose name had been mooted as a possible 'plan B'
But Fillon was met at a sports equipment plant by hecklers
shouting "Crook! Thief!", Les Echos newspaper said.
A source in the Socialist party said grandees in his The
Republicans party were unlikely to topple Fillon now, given no
clear alternative candidate had emerged and time ran out to
organise a new primary.
"They weren't far (from a party coup), but they got stuck,"
the source said.
Fillon's show of unity with Baroin did not halt the media
scrutiny that has dogged the 62-year-old former prime minister
for the past two weeks, after satirical weekly Le Canard
Enchaine reported that Fillon's wife Penelope had received
public money for work she may not have done. It later said two
of Fillon's adult children had also received taxpayer money.
Fillon has said his wife did do work for him.
On Wednesday, BFM Business, a TV channel, said in an article
on its website that Fillon had been paid 200,000 euros in fees
by insurance company AXA between mid-2012 and mid-2014 via his
consultancy business 2F Conseil.
French media speculated at the end of last year that former
AXA chief Henri de Castries could become finance
AXA and Fillon's entourage did not immediately reply to
requests for comment.
Uncertainty about the outcome of the election, taking place
in two rounds on April 23 and May 7, has this week driven the
premium that investors demand for holding French over German
government debt to multi-year highs.
(Reporting by Michel Rose; Editing by Andrew Callus and Janet